Editing Tips: Word Count

Word count counts. Shannon Thompson provides good pointers on the length of a manuscript.

Shannon A Thompson

Word count matters. As writers,we’ve all heard this. Although there are exceptions, this rule is especially true for beginning writers applying to publishers. Because of this, I thought I’d talk about it today since I know many of my readers are looking at publications opportunities.

1. Target Audience: This is a big one, because it often decides what the word count will be in a publisher. The numbers are decided based on average reading ability and popular novels. These numbers are considered the target range for that specific audience. I’ll get in more detail later on, but here are the main three I’ve come across in discussion with publishers:

  • Children: Chapter Books: under 20,000
  • Young-Adult: under 80,000
  • Adult: 80,000+ (This genre is interesting, because it differs extremely within publishers and the genre you’re writing. A lot of publishers still encourage under 80,000 for first time, but they are often more…

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Keeping perspective – when orks fight

The young reader’s short novel I am working on right now is progressing nicely. I manage to get a a little writing in every day. This helps me keep my momentum up while letting ideas simmer and brew in the back of my mind for the next day’s typing. I rattled out the lines below as part of last night’s writing. They are still an early draft, but I am quite pleased with the pacing and growing tension.

“If I had a moment to think about it, I would have one last forlorn thought for my axe. Instead, I scoop up Grork’s sturdy steel shield as I dash past it. It was forged by the finest Steel Ork smiths of Krimlork. It isn’t pretty to look at, but is almost as tough as basilisk scale. It is also heavy, which is perfect for what I have to do next. I brace my shoulder firmly against it and duck my head low. Another step carries me into the creature’s side.

The impact rattles my tusks. It is like I have charged into the very mountain wall beyond the tent. After what feels like an eternity later, I hear the creature grunt from our collision, and we begin tumbling to the ground. Our trajectory takes us over my father’s cot. I briefly catch a look of complete surprise in his eyes as he glimpses both of us sailing over his bed space.

We land in a heap. I try to roll to my feet, but I get tripped up in my father’s things. The creature is much quicker than I am despite its enormous bulk. It springs upright and grabs a hold of my chest with a massive paw. It is also apparently much stronger than I. I struggle in vain as its vice-like grip begins to crush my throat and ribs. It rears its other mighty hand back, its fist clenched and ready to cave in my head. Despite the infamous thickness of our skulls, I suspect this beast will have no more difficulty squashing me into a pulp than it would a grape.”

I’ve always been one to see things from outside the box, so when I decided I’d write a fantasy-themed book, I approached things from a different direction. There are tons of stories out there that relate the epic accomplishments of the likes of dwarven, elvish, and human adventurers. I haven’t really found anything about the world as seen by orks. This is my attempt to populate that space, and generate a new set of adventures.

Writing a story is an endurance event

Persistence pays off, even for Orks.

There’s still a lot of work that has to get done, but as the illustrations roll in, and I close in on my draft’s last few chapters, I get a sense that persistence will pay off.

I plan to keep posting excerpts on a periodic basis. If you have any thoughts or comments, please let me know. I will incorporate any helpful feedback, making it a stronger, more legible offering.

Fusion drives – interplanetary science fiction takes one step closer to reality

NASA is developing revolutionary fusion drive

NASA is working on a fusion engine that has the potential to revolutionize interplanetary travel. For decades, science fiction has imagined the possibility of humanity reaching for the stars, propelled by the power released by mashing together atomic nuclei. As with so many other technological developments, I have little doubt that many of the scientists and engineers involved on this project had their the seed for this work planted in their youth while consuming mountains of stories about space pirates and green aliens hailing from unpronounceable planets.

This highlights two key issues:

1. Youth literacy is essential. There are so many great ideas out there that simply cannot be adequately covered in a movie, TV show, or computer game, that if kids don’t read, they will have a high likelihood of not being exposed to new ideas to pursue; and

2. Science fiction authors are going to have to stay on their toes. So many ideas that seemed to be possibilities only in the dim future are rapidly coming upon us. Authors will need to stay abreast a wide field of rapidly-evolving science so that they can come up with the next wave of weird and wonderful ideas with which to capture the next generation of scientists and engineers, providing them the drive to try to bring to reality whatever mind blowing concept they read about (or yes, even saw in a movie) when they were a kid.

The Genius Crucible

available at Amazon.com

The Genius Crucible (available at Amazon.com)

A year ago, I was exposed to my first real experience editing a novel. I lovingly and patiently wrangled words and wrestled phrases into a greater level of cohesion for my father on his first outing,  The Genius Crucible. I discovered that this was in fact an enjoyable experience. Although I have been dealing with mountains of paperwork in my day job, there is certainly something special and delightful about using words to bring imagination to life rather than simply fuel the fires of bureaucracy. Here is a short excerpt for your reading pleasure:

CHAPTER ONE: 2015 Karimui, Papua New Guinea (PNG)

Snakes; God I hate snakes. Even a garden hose can scare me. I hold a strong contradiction when it comes to snakes. I inherently fear them. I startle when my subconscious mistakes an unnoticed stick along a trail. A primitive part of my mind thinks it’s a snake, but I also feel they are beautiful critters. I can only marvel at how they locomote, all so alien and exotic. It’s as if my conscious mind can admire snakes, but my subconscious mind is scared the hell of them.

My consciousness seems to identify a gnarled stick on the trail as a piece of art, an image of interest and wonder. My subconscious, though, notices it first, not as a stick, but as a Papuan death adder ready to expunge my existence. Such thoughts are inevitable when one marches through the jungle in the dark.

When the moon escaped from the clouds, I can see massive cumulous clouds rapidly building from the Papuan Gulf as they advance toward the Highlands like an army of huge siege towers electrified by Tesla1 himself. I hope the damn moon will stay out since the trail is covered with kunai and kangaroo grass. Although not tall, the slender and sharp leaves made a nice knee-high tunnel along the trail, perfectly suited to hiding snakes; big and dangerous ones, like Papuan pythons and taipans.

Why can’t they just have garter snakes in PNG? Aren’t they scary enough on a rainy night, in the middle of nowhere, with a dying headlamp?

I had never hiked on a New Guinea trail at night alone. The batteries of my headlamp are failing again and thoughts of snakes are exploding in my mind. This isn’t merely some kind of joke my brain is playing on me; snakes in New Guinea are a real threat. I wish my subconscious mind wouldn’t continually remind me of the string of possibilities lying below my next step because I wish to think about the big event. I met Nara today.

Stubborn fool; the people of Dibe village insisted that I stay the night since all sort of demons are out on rainy nights. Wawi, my translator, afraid of demons, refused to do this hike with me tonight. Negabo village is a long way off, but luckily, there are no big rivers to cross. Damn mossy logs for bridges.

Right now, everything is scary. Hell, this morning Wawi found a small but deadly black scorpion in my boot. How did he know to look in my boot? I have a doctoral degree, yet I’m an ignorant blockhead when it comes to this environment. The jungle is so beautiful, so ominous and aloof, and for the naive, so dangerous. The rainforest is like its snakes, its miraculous birds and in fact, its people. The jungle is mysterious and foreboding.

As I trudge on with all my senses set to high gain, I think: What the hell am I going to do when all my spare batteries are used up and my headlamp dies?

About a mile earlier, before the clouds started building, I shuffled under a casuarina tree, awakening a roosting mob of large fruit bats which, in unison, abruptly lifted en masse, reminiscent of a hat being removed from the head of the tree. The sudden burst of powerful wing beats from this swarm of great bats startled me. It was as if the giant Grendel had jumped out of the jungle. It appeared that they felt safe roosting as a horde.

Safe from what? I wonder. Is there something else I should be worried about this night besides snakes and falling into a ravine? A cassowary maybe?

I make no claim to be knowledgeable about tropical rainforests, but I do know enough that it wouldn’t be good for me to blunder off the trail and into the jungle itself. To the uneducated, the jungle is like the gaping black abyss at the outer edge of a coral reef or a dark alley in Bagdad. One wants to return quickly to the safety of the known.

Even at noon, if I wandered in more than six or eight feet, the fractal geometry of the vines, the massive buttressed trees and profuse understory would give me no clue as to a heading, a bearing. I would rapidly become disoriented by its great abundance. It’s all diffused light in there, no obvious sun, as a piss ant in a thick hairbrush. Even if I could climb into one of those giant trees, I could never get to the top to see anything anyway.

In the Karimui there’s nothing except dense tropical rainforest and a few highly scattered villages. My only hope would be to chance upon a randomly running trail, and that could take many days. My tropical quest is rapidly losing its appeal, and my mind keeps bringing up scary scenarios. But then again, I met Nara today. I met Nara.

Hearing the menacing roar of an approaching tropical downpour, a traveling waterfall, my eyelids tightened. Oh man, here comes the rain! This evening’s drenching. Great! To top it all, I’ll next be attacked by Indians.

The Seven Steps to the Perfect Story

Any author worth her or his salt has probably laid eyes on Joseph Campbell’s The Power of Myth and is familiar with the concepts relating to the The Hero’s Journey, which one should incidentally avoid using as an excuse for writing a poor story, or risk the wrath of Autotelic.

The CMA (http://www.the-cma.com/images/openmagazine/201210/seven-steps.png) has distilled the work into a brilliant infographic and tossed a few more tidbits in to optimize helfulness:

The Seven Steps to the Perfect Story

I love it! I just wish my printer could cleanly pump this graphic out so I could pin it up on my wall.

Writing Tips: Make Maps (Interior)

Writing Tips: Make Maps (Interior).

Shannon Thompson provides some concise thoughts on the usefulness and process of drawing maps of the interiors of buildings she uses to bring her stories to life.

I agree that such organization is useful, particularly once a story gets to be well-populated with a variety of locations, or when those locations are revisited infrequently. Being able to keep the continuity of details helps sell the story and prevents doubt from creeping into the reader’s mind, thereby helping to suspend disbelief.

Keep your eyes peeled, thar blows inspiration!

Fantasy horror toy shop.

Fantasy horror toy shop.

It’s funny how staying aware of the small things can be a boon to inspiration. Forget sweeping story arcs that need to be fed by globetrotting travels of self-discovery, forget life-changing trauma. Those can without a doubt be opportunities to find something to write about, illustrate, or simply share as an anecdote with friends, but they can be few and far between. When you’re in a bind, butting up against a particularly vicious bout of writer’s block, go for a walk. Forget the big things. Keep your eyes open for little things, things that would make a child wonder and giggle in amazement.

I took this particular picture a few years ago while strolling through an arts and crafts shop looking for some good illustration paper. There was a bin full of fantasy toys with an unusual assortment of models in promising positions. A quick shuffle of a dragon over to the princess’ corner and voilà! Ready-made damsel in distress to talk about. My inner child hooted and hollered, slapped his knee and wanted to make loud munching sounds. Since I made it out of the shop without being arrested, I assume I kept the unfolding drama securely under wraps for an external observer.

I keep the picture on my desktop for those moments where I feel like I’m running out of steam. It makes me laugh a bit, and reminds me to take things a little more lightly.