Tag Archives: analysis

It’s not the size that counts… Is it?

I’ve spent the last few days thinking about the size of books (not whatever it is you were thinking when you read the heading!), and whether the number of pages (word count) affects my decision to buy/read them. I was planning an in-depth, objective post on the subject, possibly ending by comparing published novel length, my own preferences and my own writing style…

And then Stephen Watkins went and beat me to it. (Damn you, Watkins! :))

He took a look at some of the more popular and well-known series and books, and how their word count compares to the industry “standard” and the guidelines offered by agents and publishers. His conclusion is that many best-sellers are longer than these word limits, and he extrapolates some further conclusions from that. Click over and read his whole article — it’s really interesting, informative, and incredibly long (thus proving his own point about word length).

I can’t compete with his researched, reasoned argument. What I can do is share my own opinion, and then ask for yours.

Back when I was in my teens and early twenties, I loved long books. It was all about “value for money”, and when I say money I really mean time. (Although sometimes $$ mattered as well.) When I went to the library or the bookshop, I wanted big, solid, long books. I wouldn’t have even picked up a thin book. If I was going to invest time in getting to know characters or a world (especially considering it was usually Sci Fi or Fantasy), then I wanted it to count. I wanted to stay with those characters, in that world, for as long as possible. If a book wasn’t long enough on its own, its only potential saving grace would be if it was part of a series.

So I was in my early teens when I read some of my favourite books and series of all time, including Clive Barker’s Imajica, Stephen Donaldson’s Thomas Covenant series (both of them), Julian May’s Saga of the Exiles and, of course, Lord of the Rings.

I own and will reread these books/series at the drop of a hat. BUT now that I’m at a different point in my life, there’s absolutely no way that I’d pick up any of these books if I hadn’t already read them. Because they’re just too damn long.

Any Stay at Home Mum will tell you that looking after 2 kids, a husband, a house, and all the related stuff is physically, mentally and emotionally draining. Plus, I write. Plus, I’m looking for part-time work. My time is precious and all-too-little. So when I pick up a book, I need to know that I’m going to be able to read it and enjoy it.

Bigger books tend to have more characters, more sub-plots, and more complications. They take a longer investment of time and mental energy to read. Considering I can only spare 30 – 60 minutes a day to read in between doing other things, a 300 page novel only takes me 3 or 4 days to read. But a huge 1000 page novel would take me 3 weeks, because every time I pick it up again I have to try to remember who everyone was, and what was happening.

(As a note, this is why I can reread long books I’ve already read. I know what’s happening, so there’s less mental gymnastics required even if I only read 1 chapter a day.)

These days I generally read books that are about 250-300 pages long. I’ll sometimes go out on a limb for something that looks absolutely fantastic, but it’s very rare. 

Perhaps when the boys are a bit older, I’ll go back to reading bigger books again, but it’s just not possible right now.

What about you: Longer? Shorter? Or it’s not the size that counts, it’s how the story’s told?


Filed under Opinion, Reading, Writing

Writing, Blogging, and Wearing Pants

Some weeks seem to go on forever, stretching like a piece of hot mozzarella. Others… Well, I’m not quite sure where the last seven days went. It doesn’t seem like I should be writing another writing wrap-up yet. But my calendar says its Wednesday, and who am I to argue? (If for no other reason than because the calendar is much better at stony silence than I am.)

I’m pleased to say that I’m now on day 16 of my 100 Words for 100 Days challenge. This week I wrote 1000 wordson my WIP, whic brought me to the end of chapter 2, and a good way through chapter 3. I’m also back to writing “new stuff”, which is super-double-exciting (as my 4-year-old would say). I’m really enjoying my writing, and am looking forward to continuing to nail those words to the page.

If you were reading last week, you may remember that I was a bit disappointed in myself when I only wrote 900 words for the week. A couple of people pointed out that I shouldn’t be disappointed when I’d succeeded in reaching my goal, and that set me to thinking.

What is my goal?

100 Words for 100 Days is great. It’s fantastic. It encourages me to write every day, rather than “saving up” for a couple of big writing days a week. And that’s why I started the challenge in the first place. (Which is why I can’t just “skip a day” and then continue with the challenge.) But writing 100 words every day doesn’t feel like much of an achievement. I want that 100 words to be the minimum acceptable level of writing, not the target.

That got me thinking about what I’m actually aiming for, and I was able to put it into words when I was talking with a great writing-buddy last Sunday. I’m going to put it out there now for everyone to see, and damn the torpedoes.

I want to finish the first draft of this novel by the end of October.

There are a multitude of reasons for this. (1) I also want to take part in NaNoWriMo this year, and it would be easier if I have finished this project and can move on to without guilt. (2) After NaNo, I will hopefully have achieved some emotional separation from this novel, and will be able to look at editing it in December. (3) At the beginning of the year, I said that I was going to take this year off work to concentrate on writing, so that I could prove to myself that I could make a career of it. (Alright, I was also having a baby, but let’s ignore that for the moment.) Finishing by the end of October gives me a better chance of doing so. (4) Because I damn well want to, and I’m just stubborn like that.

I still believe I can achieve this goal, but it means that I need to be writing almost 5000 words a week, not 1000. Something needs to change. A lot of somethings need to change. But the primary one is the amount of writing time I have on a daily basis.

My first thought was that I could save myself an hour or two every day if I sent my kids out to scavenge their own food on the streets, rather than spending all that time preparing, cooking, serving, and cleaning up dinner each night. But that seemed a little unfair. Especially since Baby can’t even crawl yet.

Instead, I’ve decided to cut back on blogging.

Up until now, I’ve been blogging every day. And loving it. But I can grant myself a bit extra time each week by cutting out a couple of posts, and I’ll still be posting 5 times a week. My new blogging schedule looks like this:

  • Monday: Monday’s Top 5 – A list of my 5 favourite posts from the blogosphere last week.
  • Tuesday: Flash Fiction – This may not happen every week, but will be a chance for me to stretch my storytelling muscles in a different direction, and share the results with you, my readers.
  • Wednesday: All things Writing – Incorporating my usual Wednesday Writing Wrap-Up and Friday’s Writing Thoughts.
  • Friday: Life As We Know It – Kids, Parenting, Opinions, and other Random Things.
  • Saturday: Books, Authors, and Other Geekery.

This is going to start as of ….. now. So wish me luck with writing rather than posting tomorrow!

In a mostly unrelated topic…

I don’t just spend my time writing long, rambling blog posts. I also spend it reading blogs. At last count, I was subscribed to just over 70 blogs through Google Reader. Of those 70, I’d hazard a guess that 50 are related to writing, writers, or publishing in some shape or form. So I read a lot of posts about how to write, how to edit, how to get an agent, how to get published, how to self-publish, etc. etc. etc. I also try to read as many of the comments other people post as possible.

Over the last week, I’ve become increasingly aware of how many people preface their comments with phrases like: “I’m a pantser, so I don’t…” or “I can’t do that, because I’m a planner…” or “Because I’m a pantser, I only….” or even “I’m part of the ‘planner’ club, and…”

Really? Because I don’t remember getting my secret decoder ring when I joined the panster club.

Now, I’m not saying that Pansters and Plotters don’t exist. But I didn’t think the two styles were so mutually exclusive that the skills of one don’t apply to the other. Nor did I think we were supposed to add our preferred style to the end of our name, like some kind of class designation. “Hello. I’m Jo Eberhardt – Panster Extraordinaire.”

(If there’s any non-writers still brave enough to be reading this, let me explain. Pansters sit and write by the “seat of their pants”, watching the story unfold as they do so. Plotters work out the plot first, often via a detailed outline, before they start to write.)

It’s easy to fall back on something like being a pantser or a plotter as a way of avoiding stepping outside our comfort zones. It’s not impossible to move from one camp to the other. It’s not impossible to use different styles for different projects. And while it may be helpful to understand your own preferred writing style, I don’t think it’s helpful to pigeon-hole yourself so tightly that you don’t expand your skill base.

What do you think?


Filed under Writing

Five Influential Authors

I was supposed to be writing a book review for today’s post, but with everything else happening this week, I didn’t have a chance to finish reading one. Okay, that’s not exactly true. I could have. I got about 100 pages into a book. But then I made the not-unmomentous decision to stop reading it. (This isn’t the first book I’ve stopped reading, as I mentioned here, but it’s still not something I do lightly.)

This book, which will remain nameless, suffered from my largest pet peeve of a first person narrative: the reticent host. As far as I’m concerned, if you’re a first person narrator, and you’re experiencing something that you understand, then you should explain it to the reader. You don’t keep it to yourself in order to have a “grand reveal” midway through the book. Anyway, enough of that.

I uhmmmed and ahhhed about what to put in today’s post. I even considered not writing one today. (Shock! Horror!) But then something that had been percolating around in my brain for a while floated to the surface.

Whenever you read an interview with a new-ish band, one of the questions they’re asked is something along the lines of “Who are your influences?” And every musician can (and is allowed to) name a few other musicians who have influenced their style. But it’s not something you often hear asked of an author. Surely an author has just as many influences as a musician, though. I know I do.

As a child, I wrote a lot. Sadly, none of the stories I wrote survived to this day. But I remember some of the “best” ones.

There was the amazing tale of Basketballhead the Monster. He was a monster with a basketball for a head. He went around terrorising villagers and living in a smelly cave, but was soundly defeated by a troupe of travelling basketball players.

There was an alien abduction, where the protagonist had to complete a series of three missions in order to be allowed to return to Earth. He won by relying on his superior intelligence to navigate his way through a maze with the use of only a super-large piece of string. And then, in classic fashion, he woke up and discovered it was all a dream. BUT – shock twist – he still had some string in his pocket. So… where did it come from???

Those early stories were, by and large, horrendous. But they taught me how to string sentences together to form a basic narrative structure. Then I read books, and my writing world expanded. So, without further adieu (or any more general waffling), here are the top 5 authors who have influenced my writing style.

Douglas Adams

When I read H2G2 as a young teenager, I had a revelation. Books could be funny. And not just joke books – actual, real, story-oriented books, with characters and a plot, could be funny. You were allowed to take perfectly normal, serious, and stand-up words and use them in a funny way. All of a sudden, Basketballhead developed one-liners, and the description of his cave became less earnest and more sarcastic.


Clive Barker 

I was first introduced to Clive Barker through Weaveworld, which I read when I was about 12. I fell in love with his style, and the idea of an entire world contained within the threads of a carpet, and promptly asked my parents to buy me a Clive Barker book for Christmas. They bought me Imajica, which is the single most amazing book I’ve ever read. Of course, if they’d known how much (often gratuitous) sex and violence is in there, they never would have let me get anywhere near it. This book is…. I don’t even have the words. It is master storytelling at its best. It’s a beautifully crafted world full of interesting and odd characters that inspired me to feel emotions that I’d never before experienced at the tender age of 12. And even now, when I reread my old, dog-eared copy of Imajica (being careful not to turn the pages too quickly and risk more of them coming unglued from the spine), I feel those same senses of wonder, enticement, fear, sadness, and the ultimate tragedy that permeate the very pages. Clive Barker taught me that there is beauty in horror, horror in beauty, sadness in joy, happiness in death, and tragedy in a happy ending. He taught me that wholly unlikeable characters have redeeming features, that wholly likeable characters are probably trying to sell you something, and that the interaction between those characters is what makes them both loveable and memorable.

Terry Pratchett

Much like Douglas Adams, Terry Pratchett taught me that stories could be funny. Even not-funny plots could be funny. His early books were straight parodies of fantasy clichés, but in his later books, there was often a serious storyline. If you look at books like The Fifth Elephant, or Thud! you’ve got serious situations that mirror, in some way, situations in the real world. They deal with serious issues like war, racism, and tradition. But when you’re reading these books, you barely notice all that serious stuff, because you’re so wrapped up in the characters and the humour. Characters who are clearly written as jokes (possibly as punes or plays on words) have a serious role to play in the unfolding story, and characters who are part of the serious side of the novel are written irreverently. What I learned from this was that humour doesn’t have to be used as a battering ram. It can be the chocolate topping on a ice cream sundae. You can still have dessert without it, but it adds a delicious, irresistible sweetness.

Raymond Chandler

I don’t write mystery stories, but I firmly believe that, much as all good tales have some romantic element, all good stories have a sense of mystery about them. Raymond Chandler is a master mystery storyteller. What I learned from him is that you can take a boring, dark, seedy, or dangerous situation and still write about it with beauty. He’s renowned for his use of metaphor, and there isn’t a single page of his writing that isn’t dripping with them. He was a man who loved the english language, and could spin words into gold. Without the need to trade favours with a bad-tempered dwarf.

Jim Butcher

The Dresden Files were the first urban fantasy books I ever read. They have humour, magic, mystery, and characters that are real enough you could invite them to sleep on your couch. But these books taught me two things. (1) Urban fantasy rocks, and is the genre I want to write in. Before this, I was struggling to write high fantasy. I loved the setting and plot options, but hate extensive world building. Urban fantasy gives me everything I need. (2) First person is not a dirty word. Two words. Whatever. These were the first books that I read and enjoyed that were written in first person, and I found myself wanting to practice and emulate that style.




Filed under Reading, Writing

Writer vs Author

Last week, I made a solemn vow not to talk about characters again today. And so, despite the fact that Tamara Paulin made a fantastic comment on Anthony Lee Collins’ blog about making sure every character is one that an actor would want to play, I’m not going to talk about characters at all.

Instead, I’m going to revisit the old Writer vs Author question.

This was originally prompted by a post from Emerald Barnes about what you expect from your writing. I said in my comment that I wanted publication, and I wanted to be able to call myself an author. That got me to thinking: What’s the difference between a writer and an author, anyway?

The most obvious definition of a writer is: someone who writes. So it stands to reason that an author is: someone who auths.

Hmmm. Time to consult a dictionary.*

Writer: 1. One who expresses ideas in writing. 2. One whose occupation is writing (such as a journalist of an author).

Author: 1. Someone who writes a novel, poem, essay etc; the composer of a literary work. 2. The originator, beginner or creator of anything.

Conventional wisdom seems to suggest that anyone can claim to be a writer, but an author has super-powers, writes at lightning speed, kills bad plot bunnies with nothing but a red pen, and rescues kittens before breakfast. But the dictionary definitions seem to actually reverse those roles: An author is someone who writes, whereas a writer is someone who does so for money.

That’s interesting. But then you have this quote from Friedrich Nietzsche:

The best author will be the one who is ashamed to be a writer.

What does that even mean? No, seriously. If you can unravel the mysteries of that sentence, I’d be most grateful.

According to the dictionary, the fact that I’ve written about a zillion short stories, many bad poems, and the first draft of one novel and part of a second, qualifies me as an author. But somehow… well, it just feels wrong. So how about I examine my own ideas of what turns a writer into an author.

1. An author has written a completed, saleable novel.

Really? Does that mean that short story writers and poets aren’t authors? No, thought not.

2. An author has been published.

Great. I’ve had short stories published. Does that make me an author? No, I’d still feel weird writing ‘author’ as my occupation on an official document.

3. An author has had their novel published.

See number 1. Also, with vanity published being the industry that it is, I could take my first-draft novel and have it published for only a small fee. Does that make me an author?

4. An author has had their novel published through the mysterious process of traditional publishing.

Still go back to number 1. And what about those self-published writers with brilliant books, who created a fabulous product and decided to go the self-pub route for various good reasons? Surely they deserve to be given the title of author. Yes, I thought so.

5. You’re an author when you feel like you’re an author, and not one moment before.

Yep, that seems about right.


This hasn’t really cleared up my confusion at all, so I’m calling on the expertise of everyone reading this post. What are your thoughts? When do you qualify as an author? What are some of the super-powers an author has that a writer doesn’t? Which would you prefer to be? And what did Nietzsche mean, anyway?

* Definitions are from the Macquarie Concise Dictionary 3rd Edition


Filed under Writing

Weekly Wednesday Writing Wrap-Up 12

The most amazing thing happened this week. On Saturday morning, I woke up for my usual 4:00am wake-up call, looked after Baby, and then turned on my computer to check my email before going back to bed. An icon popped up, notifying me that I had 57 unread email.

“57 emails?” I said out loud. (For those non-parents out there, talking to yourself is perfectly normal. After hours each day of goo-goo and gaa-gaa, it’s nice to talk to an adult for a change.)

I opened my email browser to see what was going on, and discovered heaps of people had read my post and clicked ‘Like’. And I had 17 new comments that needed to be moderated.

 “Goodness!” I said. (Having children also robs you of the ability to swear convincingly.)

And there, waiting quietly amongst the Likes and Moderation Requireds, was an email from WordPress Admin congratulating me on my post being selected to be Freshly Pressed. I read that email several times. Then I logged into my WP account, and discovered that over 1100 people had viewed my page in the last 3 hours.

At first, I was stunned. Then I felt like a Rock star. I was far too excited to go back to bed. I just sat in front of my computer screen, refreshing the stats over and over, and watching the Total Page Views jump by 20 or 30 at a time.

Rock. Star.

People clicked like. Comments appeared, waiting to be moderated. More people subscribed to my blog. I had emails from people who wanted to contact me privately about my story. And as the day passed, I felt less and less like a rock star. By mid-afternoon, I just felt humbled and awed.

I was awed by the outpouring of support, love, compassion, and joy that was poured directly from the hearts and minds of people from all around the world, into the comments on my blog. I was humbled by the willingness of so many people to share their own stories; some were similar to my own, but many were more disturbing or traumatic. And as the total page views passed 3000 for the day, I was just astonished that so many people had taken the time to read my story, and touched by the number of people who had responded.

So let me say this: Thank you. Thank you for commenting, thank you for sharing, and thank you for sticking around.

But all of that attention made it a goodness-load harder to write my 100 words on Saturday. It was ten minutes to midnight, and I was sitting in a silent house, counting individual words in the hopes that I’d managed to come up with 100. “Damn it, only 87. Umm… Oh, I know. I’ll add some adverbs on to those dialogue tags. That’s bound to help. And maybe some extra adjectives. The car could be shiny, new, blue, clean, sporty, and environmentally friendly.”

I made it with 2 minutes to spare. And I deleted at least 65 of those words the next day, I’m sure. But the point is that I made it.

This means that I’m now on Day 23 of my 100 Words for 100 Days Challenge. This week, I managed to write 2500 words, which is nothing compared to the amazing efforts of Leanne Baldwin, who seems to be able to bust out that many in a lazy afternoon, but I’m thrilled. That brings my average daily word count up to 363 (from 360 last week), so at least I’m consistent. If I keep going at that rate, I should be finished my first draft on the 9th of January.

In other news, the writing competition I was whingeing about last week still hasn’t released their short list. However, they’ve issued a formal apology for the delay and advised that the list will be released by the end of the month. So if I don’t mention anything about it next week, you’ll know it’s because I didn’t place in the top 10.

Finally, I don’t know if any of you writers ever pop over to Janet Reid’s blog, but if you don’t, you should. She occasionally runs an interesting contest where she gives 5 words, and people write a 100 word story that includes those words. I entered her most reason one, and had a great time crafting out a story in such a tight word limit. The words for this competition were: lyrical, angst, conspiracy, reluctant, and swoop. My entry was as follows:

Vlad slammed the book closed and flung it across the room in disgust “Nothing!” he said, his fangs flashing. “Not a jot of lyrical prose. Just angst, angst, angst.”

“Those so-called authors must be reluctant to show you in your true glory, my Lord, for fear of inciting a panic,” Igor said as he arranged the evening meal on a velvet couch.

“Nonsense! It’s a conspiracy designed to make me look weak and ineffective,” Vlad said, stalking across to his prey. “Now hand me that rabbit. I’m hardly going to swoop down and get it myself, am I?”

Do you enjoy this kind of 100 word challenge as much as I do?


Filed under Writing

How Not To Be Perfect

I’m never pleased with anything, I’m a perfectionist, it’s part of who I am. –Michael Jackson

Raise your hand if you’ve ever listed perfectionism as one of your best qualities. Raise your hand if you’ve ever sighed and said, “I can’t help it, I’m just a perfectionist,” while secretly believing that perfectionism is a good thing. Raise your hand if you’ve ever wished that you were more of a perfectionist.

If you’ve got your hand in the air, this post is probably not directed at you. Chances are, you’re probably not a perfectionist at all. Or, if you are, you may be what psychologists call an adaptive perfectionist. This post is concerned with maladaptive perfectionists, and this is who I’ll be referring to when I use the word perfectionist from this point forward.

You can put your hand down now.

Many people consider perfectionism to mean something akin to ‘striving for perfection’, which is why it has come to be seen as a Good Thing. In fact, nothing could be further from the truth. Striving for excellence is a good thing. Being a perfectionist is not. So let’s look at the definition of a perfectionist.

The Oxford Dictionary provides the definition:

Perfectionist: A person who refuses to accept any standard short of perfection.

A perfectionist is not a person who wants to achieve perfection. A perfectionist is a person who is dissatisfied with anything less than perfection; a person who believes that anything less than perfection constitutes a failure. Take a moment to think that through. And then think about the start of MJ’s quote: “I’m never pleased with anything”. Does that really sound like a good way to live your life?

There is a large difference between being a High Achiever (someone who strives for excellence) and a Perfectionist.

A High Achiever sees mistakes as learning experiences; necessary failures in order to improve. A High Achiever believes that practice makes perfect. A High Achiever will spend days, weeks, or years honing a particular skill or ability. A High Achiever will actively seek ways to better themself and their results. A High Achievers is driven by the desire to succeed.

A Perfectionist sees mistakes as failures; proof of their own inadequacy. A Perfectionist believes that if something can’t be done perfectly, it shouldn’t be done at all. A Perfectionist will spend days, weeks or years procrastinating or focusing on small, irrelevant details. A Perfectionist will blame themselves and their own incompetence for their perceived failures. A Perfectionist is driven by a fear of failure.

In writing terms, a High Achiever will write, write, write, write, write. She will practice the craft of writing, actively seek out critiques and take them on board (after the customary “you stabbed me in the heart!” feeling has passed), and then write some more. She will realise that her first draft is probably going to be crap. Or close to it. Especially on re-reading it. But she will go back and re-write, edit, re-write some more, and then seek more critiques. A High Achiever will do everything in her power to make her writing as close to perfect as possible.

On the other hand, a Perfectionist will spend ages making sure she’s got the right character name, the right margin settings, the right layout, the right writing program, etc. She will write and then grudgingly ask for feedback, hoping to be told that her work is perfect. If she’s given any constructive criticism (even if most of the feedback is positive), she will fall into a pit of self-loathing and agony, asking herself why she even bothers to write when she’s obviously useless at it. She will re-read what she wrote, realise it’s crap, and delete it. She’ll promise herself that she’ll never write again, and turn her attention to a different hobby – preferably something that she’s already proved to be good at. At some time in the future, she might decide to write again. Rinse and repeat.

A High Achiever’s motto could be: Failure is success if we learn from it. –Malcolm Forbes

A Perfectionist’s motto could be: You’ll never fail if you never try. –Homer Simpson

The surest way not to be perfect is to be a perfectionist.

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Filed under Opinion, Writing