Monthly Archives: March 2011

Living the Story

I think all possible stories exist on a different plane, and we just somehow manage to slip our brains into that plane and see the stories. And some of us are compelled to write them down, maybe to try to save them or maybe to live them.

Does anybody else experience writing this way?

And, of course, the problems come in because the stories on that plane aren’t in written form. They’re in some kind of mind meld format, and as we try to translate them into writing we lose detail, like a really high resolution photograph that your outdated computer only sees as low res, and when you try to make it larger it pixelates (to use a really long metaphor). You color it in as well as you can, try to smooth the edges and fill in missing colors.

So the challenge is to see as much as possible about the story while you’re in that plane and then keep the memory vivid so you can refer to it when you’re not in that plane, because you can’t walk around immersed in it all the time and expect to keep your day job. I suppose an independently wealthy person or one whose books were earning plenty of money could be immersed in it 24/7, but then you’ve got a very unbalanced life, and isn’t it possible to have both the writing and the living?

But then writing is a kind of living, or should be. My problems come from the times I spend just watching in that plane and forgetting the details as soon as I emerge, so that the story’s really at my mercy out here in the real world. When I go there and step into the flow of the story, let it wash all over me—when I live it—that’s when I know the story well enough that later I can not just refer back to a photograph of a character but feel around in her pockets for all those critical details.

So the question is, as always, how do I not just get to that plane but let go of myself and feel the story happen?

I know it’s the same thing every writer thinks about, because it’s just not easy to do. Writing anything—a blog, for example, or a journal entry—helps me finger the edges of it, and sometimes I can slip in from that small hand-hold. But, I swear, other times I could use a jackhammer and get nowhere.

I know having the right food helps a lot of people, but it’s not enough. Music can help more, for me at least. Doing it in the middle of the night when everyone in the house is asleep helps a lot, especially when combined with a hot pot of coffee. But I have yet to find a sure-fire way to get there. I’d love to hear how other people manage it.

But even more than that, I want to know how people let go of themselves once they get there. My ability to do that is so fragile. The mere energy of another person awake in the house can destroy it. At the same time, sometimes the connection to the story is so strong that an actual interruption, like having to take the dog out, doesn’t weaken it. So, what do I do differently those times when it’s really strong and I’m fully there? I don’t have a clue.

Has anyone discovered the key to this? Or a lock pick? Credit card? Anything? How do you move beyond watching the story?

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What To Do With a Really Long Novel?

I’ve got a writing problem I’m hoping to get advice on.

I’m writing a novel, a psychological suspense novel, that is now 678 pages long (or 174,000 words). That, of course, is much too long. Although I haven’t started the necessary cutting process, I doubt that when I do I’ll cut more than a couple hundred pages. And the novel’s not finished yet. I’d guess I’ve got another 200 pages to go before I’m done. So I’m looking at a novel that, even when cut, will be 650 pages or so.

My question is, should I just cut the hell out of it, including things that seem to me to be important to plot and character development? Should I try to break it into two books (I already have a one-book sequel in mind, which would make it a trilogy)? The problem with the latter is that I can’t think of a good place to end the first book, where it seems to come to a natural end and I can wrap things up. It really just keeps building until the end.

I was told that a publisher will not consider a manuscript by a first-time novelist that’s more than about 350 pages long. That would decimate my novel to the point that it wouldn’t be my novel anymore. It wouldn’t be able to say the things I want to say.

I wonder, though, whether the reading public is more open to longer novels than publishers are. I know I’ve read my share of 1,000-page-long novels. So I’ve been thinking that maybe, if I get it extremely well edited, find someone who can create a stellar book cover, and do a bunch of research on how to go about it, this might be a novel that would do better as an ebook. I’m not sure I’ll be able to get an agent, much less a publisher, to even look at it at this length, and yet I think it’s a good book with an important message, if I do say so myself. I don’t like the idea of it just sitting, lonely and unself-actualized, on my computer for years on end until I get a subsequent (and shorter) book published, if that’s even possible these days with publishers severely limiting the number of new authors they take on board. If I did, and it sold well, maybe the publisher would consider publishing a longer novel of mine. Maybe. Maybe not.

Getting to that point would take years and years. I want to get my book into the hands of readers sooner rather than later. Does a book even exist if it’s never been read by anyone else? Unless you publish other books that become best sellers or classics, those unpublished novels will never see the light of day. I hate that thought, especially if it’s a good novel and the obstacle is some rule that manuscripts shouldn’t exceed a certain number of pages.

But on the other hand, would a person reading an ebook be willing to invest the time to read a 600- or 700-page novel, in this day of website blurbs and bullet point e-newsletters? Has our attention span dropped so much that we will no longer read long novels, no matter the format?

I know that e-publishing isn’t considered “real” publishing, but if it’s a way of getting books into the hands of readers, well, isn’t that what publishing is all about? So, is the prejudice against it really valid, or is it one of those “this is the way it’s always been done, so it must be the only right way” things?

People have a lot of strong opinions about indie publishing versus traditional publishing, but really I’m just trying to figure out what the right medium is for this particular book—this really long book that’s a psychological suspense, chick lit, slightly literary book with a touch of horror thrown in. I don’t know that it fits neatly into a category, which seems to be a big thing with publishers and agents (not that I’m an expert; I’m a complete newbie when it comes to publishing), and that’s another reason I think e-publishing might be the way to go. I know it would take a lot of work because I would have to do all of the marketing myself, but I can do that.

So…if you have any thoughts about what direction I should take this in, please advise away!

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