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Writing Wednesday: Where to Begin?

May 11, 2011

So a couple weeks ago (from when this post will air) I finished reading Losing Graceland by Micah Nathan.  In my review I noted:

I found the book entertaining enough and breezed through it in a few hours, but that’s also the problem.  It’s too short.  I think Nathan’s strategic blunder was setting Ben and the old man [Elvis] in Buffalo.  That makes the journey far too short.  If they had been starting in Los Angeles that would have made for a much longer trip.  What would happen with the old man in Vegas?  Now that would have been interesting.  But maybe the author is far more familiar with the Buffalo area and didn’t feel confident enough writing about anywhere else.

The ARC I read came in at just 212 pages, which isn’t very long.  You could almost call it a novella instead of a novel.  The book could have been a lot longer if Nathan had started on the Left Coast instead of in Buffalo.  And he could have added more interesting events (like a Vegas side trip as I mentioned) and bonding/growing experiences for young Ben and old Elvis.

Then I remembered I had this same problem with a story of mine, The Naked World–on sale in Kindle format for 99 cents! (requisite shameless plug!)–back in 2006.  After editing the story wound up being only about 55,000 words long, which again makes it almost a novella instead of a novel.

The problem I ran into was that I decided it would be best to do the whole story in about 24 hours.  Any longer than that and I figured it would be too unbelievable that someone didn’t catch my Don Quixote-like character.  The problem was then that the 24-hour window really limited just how much I could do.  Also, setting it in a smaller town was problematic because it did make it harder for the character to hide.

Had I set the time longer and used a different setting–like a west-to-east road trip–it would have allowed me to expand the story and thus expand the interactions of the characters and give them more time to bond and grow.

Maybe I’ve said it before, but strategic choices like these can doom a story before you even get Word 1 down on paper–or the computer screen.  In this case, I think Micah Nathan made a couple of poor choices that limited how much he could do.

But he’s published and I’m not, so what do I know?

Friday learn why I’m done with superheroes (except the one I created)…


From → Uncategorized

  1. You just wanted more pages with the asian prostitute you dirty bulldog you.

  2. Actually I don’t know why Nathan wrote her out so quickly. It might have been nice to keep her around a little longer so that Ben wasn’t always whining about his obnoxious ex-girlfriend back home.

  3. This demonstrates the value of planning what you’re going to write before you write it, something I almost never do. I tend to write in a serial format — I sit down, write a few pages, and then write a few more a while later. The only time I ever started out with an idea where the story would end up, I spent so long writing it that I totally changed it, anyway.

    This comment also demonstrates the value of planning what you’re going to comment on before you comment.

  4. Fair point, but if I had to choose I’d rather someone tell me they wish it had been longer, rather than tell me it was too long.

  5. I agree with Rusty. Then they come back for your next book. Too short is a problem, but too long is a MUCH bigger one.

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