Thursday, July 2, 2009

Arbitrary Goals

I'm a goal setter. When I sit down to write a story, I have a target length in mind for it. For example when I attempt Patti's flash fiction challenges, I set the goal at 750 words (or whatever limit Patti has set.)

Sometimes the story idea itself is what I use to set the word count goal. Some stories are short ideas. Some are long. Usually it has to do with the complexity of the problem and also a rather arbitrary thing call "What I feel like." Sometimes, I pair the idea with a possible market, and the market determines the target word length.

But these lengths are not set in stone. I won't force a story into a smaller-- or larger-- box just because that's the goal I set. I may write a story too long for a 750 word goal, then attempt to pare down. Sometimes it works and I get a nice succinct story with no extraneous words. Sometimes, I get a half-assed, half-hacked story that I then restore to a more appropriate length.

I also set word counts for the novels. The current novel (which doesn't have a title *twitch*) has a target goal of 70,000 words. Short and full of action. Just how I want it... The first novel, which is walking the streets looking for an agent, originally came in about 72,000 words. A few revisions later and it's about 75,000 words. I hope the current novel will work out the same way.

For the novel, having a word count does two things. One, it gives me milestones. It's like crossing things off the to-do list. I like to have measurable progress. The other thing it does is it gives me a framework to hang my plot on. I know that about 20k the novel should be hip deep in shit. In the 40s, it should be knee deep and Bo should be solidly on the tail of the bad guy. In the 50s and 60s I have the climactic showdown between Bo Fexler and the bad guy. And in the late 60s, I'm wrapping up.

Nothing set in stone, ever, but it gives me something to measure with. Am I where I should be? Is the story moving too slow, to fast? Having a word count gives me a guage to measure the story against until the climax is written and the story (near) finished.

Sometimes I think I should just outline the damn things... but I dont' follow the outline. When I sit to write, the words come and I follow them like a gingerbread trail. Or maybe it's an Alphabits trail. I don't mind. It means writing a story is a little like reading it: I don't know what's going to happen until I get there.

1 comment:

Barbara Martin said...

I don't use an outline either, although I have sort of an idea that expands as I write. Sometimes incidents with sub-characters take off and provide nice conflicts.