Bravo and I are arguing about the Oxford comma again.
Archive for March, 2014
I caught a baby crow.
Now, I have been a fantasy geek since I read The Hobbit at age six (my mother threw books at me in a desperate attempt to cope with my hyperactivity). And I grew up on wildlife refuges…we always had this or that wild critter rehabbing at our house. A raccoon in the dog house, a grebe in the bathtub, a hawk in the kitchen…I have always, ALWAYS, wanted a pet crow or raven.
The little guy was fully fledged and unhurt; he’d simply worn himself out learning to fly. I held him in my hands and felt the frantic thrumming of his heart, stroked his glossy feathers, looked at the bright intelligence in those eyes. And I wanted that baby crow with every fibre of my being.
His folks were circling overhead, distressed. Crows’ murders are very social, very close-knit groups. They were crying, but afraid to come near me.
His clawed feet clung to my hand. So warm and strong, so clever. His beak was like ebony, and his feathers iridescent. I knew that if I clipped the first four flight feathers, I could restrict his flight until he had bonded to me and would never leave. I live in the woods, and he could have a nice big rookery all to himself.
Four crows circling overhead, and then five. I let my little girl stroke his feathers with one finger, and he was still as only a young wild animal can be, afraid to breathe lest I decide to eat him.
I thought of a perch next to my writing desk, where he could sit and watch me write. And I could put him out in his rookery from time to time, so that he could watch the other crows flying, doing their crow thing, and maybe they would come down and stare at him in his glorified bird cage.
I explained what was in my heart to my little girl, who will one day fly away from me. And put the little crow on a branch, as high as I could reach, so that he would be able to rest and recover out of the reach of predators. He climbed up to a higher branch, quickly, and sat there regarding me with those bright, intelligent eyes.
His murder began to circle lower, crying for their lost child.
I walked home; my steps were as reluctant as my heart, heavy with the knowledge that I could turn back and he would still be there, glossy and bright and beautiful. I could take him home…I could take him to my home, never to return to his own.
I held my little girl’s hand. So soft, so warm, trusting in me with every fibre of her being.
The crow’s mother cried out and I heard him answer. And I smiled to myself, thinking:
I caught a baby crow.
When it comes to word count for an epic fantasy manuscript, people in and around the publishing industry are as bad as giving consistent advice as horse people are at deciding whether you should, or should not, blanket your horse in the winter.
Do a quick web search for word count in epic fantasy, and you will find out that you should not submit a manuscript with a higher word count than 130k, but neither can you submit a manuscript that comes in at under 200k. This is because it costs more to print, ship, and warehouse books (oh, but my books will never sit in a warehouse, says the bright-eyed writer), but readers don’t want to spend their money on short books.
Which leads me to conclude that it’s not just me: writers all suck at math.
Here’s my take on the One True Answer, bearing in mind that I am probably just full of hot air: it depends on the book. Yes, that sounds trite, doesn’t it? But here’s the thing:
Artwork for the cover of The Thing vol. 3, 1 (Jan, 2006). Art by Andrea Di Vito.
Wait, no, that’s The Thing.
Here’s the other thing: the scope and focus of a book determine how bit it needs to be in order to get stuff all wrapped up and accomplish whatever the author wanted (and promised) to accomplish. A story that focuses on the immediate experience of a battle, for instance, told from a first person point of view and meant to examine in sharp detail how it felt to be a soldier in that battle, is probably going to require fewer scenes and chapters. If such a story is dragged out over 150k words, it might feel a bit, as Bilbo would say, like butter scraped across too much bread. If a story aims to examine a decades-long conflict from the points of view of a dozen characters and incorporate a laundry list of subplots, attempting to squash everything into a 150k manuscript is going to feel, well, squashed. Incomplete. Either way, you are going to annoy your audience.
Epic Fantasy is supposed to be epic. It’s got enormous sweeping scope, outrageously awesome characters, Threats to Life as We Know It, and Phenomenal Cosmic Powers. The mountains are bigger, the rivers are bigger, the swords are bigger, and the heroes…well, you get the idea. So it’s no big surprise, pun intended, that a manuscript for really epic Epic Fantasy might double as a weapon in the wrong hands.
Brian G. Turner http://www.sffchronicles.co.uk/forum/539481-epic-fantasy-word-counts.html compiled an interesting list of word counts in Epic Fantasy series:
Lord of the Rings – J. R. R. Tolkien
The Fellowship of the Ring: 187k
The Two Towers: 155k
The Return of the King: 131k
Wheel of Time – Robert Jordan
The Eye of the World: 305k
The Great Hunt: 267k
The Dragon Reborn: 251k
The Shadow Rising: 393k
The Fires of Heaven: 354k
Lord of Chaos: 389k
A Crown of Swords: 295k
The Path of Daggers: 226k
Winter’s Heart: 238k
Crossroads of Twilight: 271k
Knife of Dreams: 315k
Gentleman Bastards – Scott Lynch
The Lies of Locke Lamora: 190k
Red Seas under Red Skies: 200k
Joe Abercrombie – First Law (& standalones)
The Blade Itself: 191.2k
Before They Are Hanged: 198.3k
Last Argument of Kings: 234.1k
Best Served Cold: 227.7k
The Heroes: 203.4k
Red Country: 172.1k
Stormlight Archives – Brandon Sanderson
The Way of Kings: 387k
A Song of Ice And Fire – George R. R. Martin
A Game of Thrones: 284k
A Clash of kings: 326k
A Storm of Swords: 404k
A Feast for Crows: 300k
Malazan Book of the Fallen – Steven Erikson
Gardens of the Moon: 209k
Deadhouse Gates: 272k
Memories of Ice: 358k
House of Chains: 306k
Midnight Tides: 270k
The Bonehunters: 365k
Reaper’s Gale: 386k
Toll the Hounds: 392k
Dust of Dreams: 382k
The Crippled God: 385k
Demon Trilogy – Peter V Brett
The Painted Man – 158,000
The Demon Spear – 240,000
King Killer Chronicles – Patrick Rothfuss
Name of the Wind – 259,000
Wise Man’s Fear – 399,000.
Night Angel trilogy – Brent Weeks
Way of Shadows: 156k
Prince of Nothing Trilogy – R. Scott Bakker
The Darkness that Comes Before: 175k
The Warrior-Prophet: 205k
The Thousandfold Thought: 139k
A Land Fit for Heroes(?) – Richard Morgan
The Steel Remains: 146k
The Cool Commands: 171k
The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant, the Unbeliever – Stephen R. Donaldson
The First Chronicles
Lord Foul’s Bane: 165k
The Illearth War: 180k
The Power That Preserves: 168k
The Wars of Light and Shadow – Janny Wurts
Curse of the Mistwraith: 233k
Ships of Merior: 206k
Warhost of Vastmark: 156k
Fugitive Prince: 220k
Grand Conspiracy: 235k
Peril’s Gate: 300k
Traitor’s Knot: 220k
Stormed Fortress: 248k
Initiate’s Trial: 250k
I understand the hesitation of an agent or editor when faced with 250k words in a debut novel, really I do. I mean, how do they even know those words are all in the right order? I began writing The Heart of Atualon (Book 1 of the Sleeping Dragon) with every intention of turning out a quick, fun, reasonable sword-and-sorcery-in-the-desert story. But once I began examining the world I was in and the stories that were cropping up all around Sulema and me, I wanted to tell those stories, too. I wanted to examine the same set of events from different characters’ points of view, and explain that what was good for the Aturan might not be good for the Quarabalese, and so forth. I loved the tightly focused story I had, but I came to want more. And more.
So, yes, I understand that a manuscript as big as mine will face gatekeepers and challenges, and I am fully aware that debut writers never, never (well, hardly ever) have agents and editors sitting idly behind their epic mahogany desks just waiting for that giant beast of a doorstopper to be finished. It probably would have been easier for me to sell The Song of Sulema at 120k words than it will be for me to sell The Heart of Atualon at 200k words. Because debut writers just don’t do that. It is known.
As my Arabic instructor used to say, “It is always, always, always this way. Except when it is not.”
I have decided to write the book I want to write, tell the stories I want to tell, whether the math works out in my favor or not. I am hoping that my readers are just as bad at doing the math as I am, that they enjoy reading about my characters as much as I enjoy writing about them, and that being transported to my world brings them joy and that weird glazed-eye look we all get when we’re geeking out over talking beasts or awesome weapons.
I have made some changes to my game plan, on the off chance that it is a good idea to follow sound advice: I have cut the last thirty chapters of The Heart of Atualon (roughly 111,000 words) and will be using those chapters in Heart of the Forbidden City, Book 2 of the Sleeping Dragon.
I’m about to pass the 106k mark, and according to my outline I’m 62% finished with The Heart of Atualon. I’m going to go write my way up Everest now; see you on the other side.
Jai tu wai!
Site is being reconstructed. Please, please, please don’t ask.
The good news is that I am going live; the bad news is that…oh, never mind. I’m almost finished with The Heart of Atualon, Book 1 of Sleeping Dragon, and I think I have most of the words in the right order.
Barring self-imposed technical difficulties, I should be finished with my first draft sometime mid to late April 2014. I will be sharing excerpts and my thoughts on the writing process, here and on my Facebook page, on a regular basis.
It’s been a great adventure so far, and I do hope you join me!
Jai tu wai,