Friday Writing Tip: Managing Scope

Do some writing this weekend, y’all.

Stories come in all lengths, but it can be hard to judge the scope of a story before https://fantasticthoughts.files.wordpress.com/2014/05/95f3d-19wizardofoz.jpgyou start writing it. You might find as you write that the story is pulling up too short, or going on far too long.

  • Consider your form. A short story simply can’t deal with too many ideas. A novel has to represent nuance and complexity. If you misjudge, you might end up with a novella.
  • Consider your genre. These things aren’t set in stone, but audiences expect certain word lengths in certain genres. Epic high fantasy, for example, is usually long. Literary fiction, by contrast, is often short.
  • Consider your target age group: Generally speaking, novels for children and young adult are shorter than novels written for adults.

So, what do you do if your first draft of a historical epic for adults is only 40 000 words long?

  • Look for a character with potential for development. What is their version of the story? Could it make a worthy subplot?
  • Check that you haven’t rushed the plot. The tension should rise slowly over the course of the story: perhaps you’ve simply peaked too soon, and need to go back and write a few “spacer” scenes.
  • Look for scenes where you have summarised and see if you can dramatise instead. Sometimes in our hurry to get things down, we don’t take the time to lay out details. For example, “Frodo took the ring to Mount Doom” cuts out a lot of interesting action.

Conversely, what do you do if your young adult romance clocks in at 250 000 words?

  • Check that you haven’t started the story too early. A story should start with a point of strong narrative interest, not with acres of character history.
  • Reduce the amount of viewpoint characters. Do you really need all of those perspectives on the action?
  • Cut all repetition. Look for characters who perform similar functions, scenes that describe similar actions, even sentences that say the same thing twice.
  • Look at every scene and decide whether or not it’s contributing meaningfully to the progress of the story. Those that don’t will have to go.

Of course, a story is as long as it is, and you shouldn’t feel you have to cut out important things, or puff it up with irrelevant subplots. But if you are determined to be published consider the expectations of your reader, and don’t wear out your welcome or abandon them too soon.

 

Why I loved Godzilla

So this is not a review, but a discussion about all the cool stuff in the latest Godzilla movie, so it has a billion spoilers. If you want to just watch the trailer then run away, here it is:

In the 70s, my brother and I would lie flat out on the living room floor and watch 1950s daikaiju movies on the TV together. I remember being particularly affected by Mothra, though now I see pictures of him I wonder why. Godzilla is, of course, the most famous of the daikaiju, a monster who lays waste to Japanese cities the way that the atom bomb laid waste to Hiroshima and Nagasaki just a decade earlier.

https://i2.wp.com/upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/en/2/29/Godzilla_%2754_design.jpg

Now you probably all know by now that I love the b-grade stuff big time. I don’t go to see art movies because it seems a waste of a trip to the cinema if there are no ‘splosions (and a waste of money because I love Gold Class where you can eat ice-cream and drink wine), and then I tend not to watch much on the small screen at home because I get bored and uncomfortable and would rather be reading in bed.

But I’m pretty particular about my b-grade viewing. It has to have something special for me to LOVE it, and 2014’s Godzilla was a movie I loved. Given the shitty reviews it’s getting everywhere, I figured I should explain why. Because, honestly, there’s a lot of crappy stuff in it too. At one point during the movie, my viewing partner and I turned to each other and rolled our eyes, and I whispered to him, “Let’s drink quicker.” A little wine makes the suspension of disbelief much easier.

Having said that, though, this movie nails it in so many ways that I forgave every flaw.

The film starts off with the kind of stuff that orients the viewer to expect what they’ve seen before in disaster flicks. I settled in with my Sauv Blanc and pork sliders and got to know the key characters, then BLAMMO a couple of them were dead. Slowly a theme emerged: the tissue-like ephemerality and savage randomness of human existence. People come together or they don’t. They save each other or they don’t. They survive or they don’t. No pattern of story-telling or genre seemed to govern the fates of characters. More and more, I began to notice that humans looked tiny and futile: swarming up the sides of a mine, or out in their cars jammed on the freeway, or running from a tsunami. A mass of undifferentiated and  almost completely ineffectual creatures, dwarfed by the extreme zoom-out or by the size of the daikaiju stomping on their stuff. The scene near the end, where the hero (by lucky happenstance a bomb disposal expert) is stranded on a boat with a ticking bomb ends nothing like you expect it will. It’s written all over his face: there’s nothing he can do. No message of America-fuck-yeah glory-of-human-action can be taken from this film. We are all fucking ants.

In a stupefying contrast of scope is Godzilla: big, beautiful, and b’dass. How I loved him. Especially the bit where (extreme spoiler alert) he grabs that other monster, spews blue lightning down its throat, then rips its freaking head off. I may have fist-pumped in the cinema (but then, I had drunk my wine quite quickly).

Godzilla was a glorious movie to watch. The last forty-five minutes, in particular, featured a series of beautiful set-pieces. The HALO jump that opens the trailer embedded above looked like a Gustave Dore woodprint, shaded in gold and fire. This last act of the movie blew my tiny mind, and I forgave any awkwardness that came before. Sheer, beautiful pandemonium. Godzilla is awesome in every sense of the word.

 

So, it’s been a while…

Surrealistic-Paintings-Salvador-Dali-Spain-06 I know, I know. I should have written before now. I got sick at the start of the year and have been playing catch-up ever since.

Rest assured that I’ve been busy. The big news is that the book formerly known as Garden of the Mad King is going to be published in November! At laaaaaaaaaaast! The new title the publishers have chosen is “Daughters of the Storm”. They’ve signed me up for a series, so YAY. I hope to have an extract and a cover to show you soon.

In order to make sure I keep the blog up-to-date, I’m introducing a new thing, which is every Friday around lunchtime I’m going to release a quick writing tip.

If you haven’t already, please sign up for my Facebook author page. There will be news and giveaways and other nonsense there regularly.

And finally, I gave a TEDx talk in March, and you can watch it below: It’s about being creative amid distractions. Don’t get too distracted now: