Three studies of misery at the van Gogh museum…
I hit the 70,000 word mark today. It has tended to be the magic number for me, the word count I aimed for when writing my first novel, ID, at the age of 20 (a novel that will never be released from the darkest pits of my archive folders), and just managed to stagger over before completion. For me, 70K means I’ve hit novel territory. I made book-length. Which is arrant nonsense, of course*, but psychologically, for me, it ticks every box. Once I hit 70K, I tend to relax a bit, catch my second wind, and ease on through to the finish.
Writer and editor Peter Crowther, in a panel at Fantasycon, recently explained how he carves up these categories. For him, up to 10K is a short story; 10-20K is a long short story, or ‘novelette’; 20-40K is a novella; 40-60K is a short novel and 60K+ is a novel. These are good yardsticks to keep in mind, but it’s best to play fast and loose with them. A lot of writers, especially novice writers, get hung up on word counts (I still do, as evidenced by this blog post). Seventy thousand words is a psychological – and, let’s face it, physical – barrier to work towards. The argument that ‘it’s as long as it is’ doesn’t quite cut it when you’re trying to write a novel, especially one you want to see hit the shelves. Publishers and readers generally like to see some bang for their buck.
What do you think? Do you have your little word counter clicking along as you type? Do you, like Graham Greene, obsessively count the words by hand? Or do you ignore the numbers and simply work until you feel it’s finished? I’d be interested to hear from you.
* Look at the novels of Gwendoline Riley, for example. Her first, brilliant, novel, Cold Water, is 25,000 words long, give or take. A novella, really, if you were being strict. Is it a novel, though, in terms of theme and substance and gravitas? Well, that’s a different argument…
There’s a character in Loss of Separation who wears a mask. He’s meant to be threatening. So, what to go with? It took a long time to decide upon the kind of mask because there have been some pretty big shadows cast by mask wearers, particularly in cinema history, although I’ve read a few novels in which they play quite a part, if only symbolically (I’m thinking, predominantly, of The Dead Zone).
Jason and Michael, of course. And the dead Presidents in Point Break. The opening sequence of From Russia with Love. More recently, the clown masks littered across the first ten minutes of The Dark Knight. All good masks. As are the hyper-real masks that you’ll find in many instances of commedia dell’arte. But for my inspiration I turned to the film Eyes Wide Shut. I love the film (I’m a big Kubrick fan) and there’s something about its cold, highly-stylised Venetian masks that I thought would work for me.
There’s the threat of a mask causing unintended humour, however, so I’m going to test the novel on a select few before I go ahead… especially as I’ve given mine a strange twist.
A little bird tells me I might be getting a Kindle for Christmas, which is great (I’m one of those gadget boys, I’m afraid…). I’ll use it quite a lot. Especially while on holiday. Books take up too much packing space, which is at a premium when you consider we’ve got three rapidly-growing boys to contend with. But I won’t allow my head to be turned by technology too much. I love books. I love to have them on my shelves, in my study. I love to browse when I’ve got an idle moment. I like to pick one out and flick through it to a favoured passage, or chance upon a random insert (a photograph, a train ticket, a note from a friend). I love the covers and the smell. I also love to receive books through the post. Just today, my contributor’s copies of The End of the Line arrived. I always get a little spike of excitement opening a parcel like that. Waiting for a download doesn’t have anything like the same impact. As long as digital doesn’t replace paper and ink, I’ll be happy to juggle all media.
Apologies for the brevity of my last few posts. I was tending to think more about what to write in the blog than what should go on the page… but I don’t want to completely stop posting while I try to get this book finished. Word counts and the occasional comment will appear. Nobody has to read it (if you do drop by, thank you very much), but it’s helpful for me.
So anyway, shed problem sorted. Now on to the next bit.
Listened to: Bach, Goldberg Variations
Possibly not a good idea finishing today’s shift worrying about how best to break into a toolshed…
Conrad Williams received the third British Fantasy Award of his career at a ceremony in Nottingham on Saturday night. One was voted Best Novel ahead of books by Joe Abercrombie, Mike Carey, Sam Stone and Stephen King. The full list of winners can be found here.