Size Does Matter

The piece I’m currently writing is meant to be about 15,000 words. It’s been an interesting experience so far. I’m learning a lot about writing at this length.

You see, I have written many short stories, almost all of them less than 6000 words, most of them in the 1500-3000 word range. I have written novels, in the 80,000-100,000 word range. I have a draft lying around for a piece of about 20,000 words, that is condensed from parts of a novel draft and is in very rough shape. And then there is the current project: 15,000 words.

The good thing is that I’m writing from scratch; unlike that unfinished 20K piece, I’m not trying to compress a large story into a small box, which has its own issues. It’s true that the original concept for this 15K story was to be a novel, the synopsis from which I’m working was condensed from that novel synopsis; however, I hadn’t actually written any of the novel, so it was easier to think about making it shorter.

An important fact about me: I don’t comprehend most things about writing until I actually sit down and write. I learn by doing.

It turns out, I misjudged how much story I can fit into 15K. I tend to get overcomplicated with my plots; I have yet to bite off less than I can chew. When writing the abbreviated synopsis, I didn’t quite realize that; I still felt like 15K was long. It isn’t.

The story’s structure is complicated by its being erotica. There must be sex scenes, and those scenes need to be fairly long and detailed. The story, per contract, needs to be weighted more towards the erotica side than the adventure story side. Fitting sex scenes into the story is no problem; they are a major part of the plot, after all; but of course they eat wordcount, leaving less for the scenes of character introduction and (hopefully) exciting non-sex action. Not that this is a new problem in writing erotica. I’m just saying it here to remind myself I’ve run into this issue before.

As I write and get a better idea for the length I have to work with, I’ve figured out several applicable techniques. First, the judicious use of telling rather than showing. Second, making the showing count (some of that is going to happen in revisions; I tend to meander more in draft). Third, eliminating extraneous characters whom you foolishly included in the synopsis (oops). Fourth, skipping the journeys (as in, the time they spend walking to Mordor) and jumping into the destination, as close to when things happen as possible; this means I have to make sure to establish setting clearly and quickly, with each change of scene.

If I follow my usual pattern, I’m going to write several things at about this length in a row, as I try to master the form. I’m looking forward to it!

If you have any tips for writing at this length, or things that bug you about stories you’ve read at this length, please feel free to comment!

About Victoria Janssen

Victoria Janssen’s first erotic novel, The Duchess, Her Maid, The Groom and Their Lover (Harlequin Spice, December 2008), was translated into French and German. Her second Spice novel, The Moonlight Mistress (December 2009), was translated into Italian and nominated for a RT Reviews Reviewers’ Choice Award. Her third novel is The Duke & The Pirate Queen (December 2010). She has also published erotic short stories as Elspeth Potter. Her blog features professional writing and marketing tips, genre discussion, book reviews, and occasional author interviews.
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