It’s Not The Length, It’s What You Do With It

Guest Post by Mindy Klasky

Thanks, Doranna, for letting me hang out here today and for allowing me to share some of the background of my Diamond Brides Series, including Perfect Pitch, which is in stores now.

Once upon a time, I wrote my first novel. The Thirteenth Teaching was an epic fantasy, a quest novel that involved the collection of twelve artifacts, each pointing toward the reincarnation of a vengeful goddess. Clocking in at 175,000 words, Teaching was rejected by every major publisher in New York.

One editor took mercy on me in her rejection letter.  She explained that the book was too long for its story, and she urged me to cut 50,000 words.  I did, taking the extremely scientific approach of eliminating two sevenths of the words on every page.  The revised book was rejected by every major publisher in New York.

Ultimately, I wrote and sold another book, The Glasswrights’ Apprentice, which was 110,000 words long.  My next nine novels floated between 100,000 and 110,000 words.  That was a comfortable length for me.  It allowed subplots and multiple points of view; I could craft complicated worlds and add multiple details to tell a fantasy story.

And then I received a letter from my then-publisher stating that, due to the increased cost of paper, all contracted-for novels would now top out at 80,000 words.

Initially, I panicked.  How could I tell a complete story in four-fifths of the space?  How could my characters be real?  How could my plots be complete?

I edited.  I trimmed.  I streamlined.  And my fiction became stronger for the restrictions.

Another few years passed, and I got the crazy idea of writing a contemporary romance series around a baseball team—nine novels, each telling the story of a different position player.  I wanted to experiment with new marketing schemes, releasing the books one-a-month.  But I knew I couldn’t create nine 80,000-word novels in a year.

But I could produce nine 45,000-word novels.

“All” I had to do was streamline my writing.

First things first—I jettisoned subplots.  There simply wasn’t enough room for secondary stories, not at my chosen length.  Instead, I focused on honing the main plot, making sure that every plot incident led inevitably to the next, that the entire structure was built on a firm foundation and that every single twist and turn put a necessary, story-advancing stress on that basic structure.

Next, I pushed my dialog to serve double-duty.  It wasn’t enough for characters to speak to each other.  In every conversation, words needed to further the plot at the same time that they illuminated characters (ideally providing both backstory and forward motion).  By focusing on active verbs and precisely chosen nouns, I pushed dialog to advance my condensed story.

Finally, I reviewed all of the descriptive writing in my novel.  As a long-time fantasy writer and reader, I have a great love of description in my books—I want to share the entire sensory input from a scene, lingering over sights and scents especially.  But with a maximum of 50,000 words, I didn’t have space for that luxury. Instead, I needed to be certain that every sensory detail contributed to the whole.  When I describe my character’s wardrobe, I’m telling you about her character.  When I detail someone’s meal, you know the food on his plate is telling you about how he lives his life.

As a result of this structuring and toning and tightening, I emerged with a concise, 42,000-word novel.  Perfect Pitch has all the conflict of my earlier work and all the depth of character (plus a lot more graphic description of love scenes!)  I think of Pitch—and the eight other Diamond Brides novels—as distillations of books.  All of the excess has been boiled off, so that readers are left with the sharp, pure, essential nature of a contemporary romance.

What sort of writing do you prefer?  The highly distilled nature of a short novel?  Or the lush, relaxed feel of a long one?

Klasky-PerfectPitch200x300Mindy Klasky learned to read when her parents shoved a book in her hands and told her she could travel anywhere through stories. As a writer, Mindy has traveled through various genres, including hot contemporary romance. In her spare time, Mindy knits, quilts, and tries to tame her to-be-read shelf.

PS sez I — I read one of the books in this series and am really looking forward to the entire collection!  Have fun!

Reigning beauty queen Samantha Winger is launching her pet project, a music program for kids. All she has to do is follow the pageant’s rules—no smoking, drinking, or “cavorting” in public.
   That’s fine, until D.J. Thomas—God’s gift to baseball—throws her a wild pitch. He slams her in an interview, and the video goes viral. Sam’s no shrinking violet. She parlays D.J.’s apology into a national T.V. appearance—and a very unexpected, very public kiss.
   Soon, paparazzi catch the couple in a steamy make-out session, and Sam’s music program is on the block. The blazing hot relationship is threatened even more when D.J.’s son begs to trade in Little League for music class.
   Can Sam and D.J. sizzle past the sour notes and find their perfect pitch?

About Doranna

My books are SF/F, mystery, paranormal romance, and romantic suspense. My dogs are Beagles, my home is the Southwest, and the horse wants a cookie!
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20 Responses to It’s Not The Length, It’s What You Do With It

  1. Pingback: As Threatened… | Mindy Klasky, Author

  2. Marilyn says:

    Well, I like to read. It has been said I’ll read just about anything, so long as it isn’t moving too fast for me to focus on. Sometimes I like shorter, compressed stuff. Other times I like more leisurely books with subplots. What I do NOT like is mega-volume series where the author forgets who his/her main characters are, and spends so much time in complicated bits and pieces that it is impossible to figure out who’s doing what when — and most importantly, why in blazes I should care about these characters enough to invest my reading time in them. (Yes, I do have a particular author in mind, whose books I used to like.) I do like a sensual romance, so long as the sensuality is an integral part of the story and serves to develop both plot and characters. I don’t like “Well, here we are on Page 10, better throw in a sex scene. Okay, here’s page 20, time for another sex scene. Yikes, here’s page 40… okay, let’s throw in TWO sex scenes!” I like the comedy of manners, and the light, implied sensuality of someone like Georgette Heyer. Humor is tricky. Too often, what passes for humor these days is just plain silly. Or in the case of supernatural humor, extremely lacking in survival characteristics for the supernatural being in question. I get irritated when characters act stupidly for the sake of supposed humor. Done well, humorous books are ones I come back to again and again. I do not like gloom, doom, and despair books. I can get that from the front page of the newspaper. Don’t need it in my leisure reading material.

    • Doranna says:

      Wow, that was a wonderful summary!

      I prefer different things at different times–and have always been like you. If it’s good, I’ll read it regardless of genre. If I want comfort reads or snacks, I tend to head for short romance, because for me that’s where the story is distilled to the point that I digest it in a tired evening. (Mindy’s baseball books are a perfect example of this for me, btw.) Longer, more complex work has its own comfort–going back to the same story for a week of evening reading means falling back into a now-familiar world. (Julie Czerneda’s TURN OF LIGHT was like this for me.)

      • Mindy Klasky says:

        There’s nothing quite like that literary submersion, is there?!?

  3. Mindy Klasky says:

    Marilyn – I completely understand what you’re talking about, being a relatively omnivorous reader myself. Recently, I’ve realized that when I’m stressed I either reach for really short novels (still complete stories, but definitely on the compressed end) or *really* long novels (Victorian novels, etc), where I can lose myself in the world.

    As for humor – I agree, it’s one of the hardest things to write. Different people have such vastly different ideas of what is humorous! (I, for one, don’t care for most physical humor, which rules out vast swaths of TV shows and movies!)

    • Marilyn says:

      Mindy, yes, definitely an omnivorous reader here. (And married to one, also. As mentioned before on this blog, he proposed by suggesting that we merge our libraries.) When stressed, I often go back to re-reads. Favorite authors, favorite stories, where I know what’s going to happen, and can just enjoy the character interaction. I watch very little television — Dreamworks Dragons being about my limit! Or History Channel when it’s not WWII-ing it. (Not that I object to WWII, just that there’s more to history than that.) (grin) I have, however, DL your Jane Madison books and will give them a shot after I finish my re-read of Powder and Patch.

      • Mindy Klasky says:

        My husband and I were married for five years before we merged our libraries. True love, that is 🙂

        I hope you enjoy the Jane Madison books when you get to them!

    • Doranna says:

      You know, even as a kid, when it came to physical humor I was like, “Really?”

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