Month: August 2012

How Long Should Your Book Be?

I’m not much for maths. (That would make a great blog title though—please don’t steal it. My trademark and intellectual property lawyers are better than yours.) But I must admire the lack of debate about the basics. How long is a foot? How much does a pound weigh? And, yes, you could debate it further, but at the end of the day, one-hundred centimeters make a centometer. Or something. I’m not much for maths.

Try asking “How long is a novel?” Math folks: you are right to mock us.

That’s why we’re Writing All Wrong.

Dear Writing All Wrong:

Dumb question, but how long should my book be?

—Nancy Mears, Cranston, R.I

You know how people always say, “There’s no such thing as a dumb question?” People say that.

Nancy, I don’t know. Depending on genre, audience, writing style, whether you want to publish, your book could and should be many lengths.

Let’s run a few tests and see if it’s “too long,” “too short,” or “just right.”

You wrote a 50,000-word magnum opus for NaNoWriMo: TOO SHORT

Your book contains Volume (any number here) in the title: TOO LONG 

You’re writing science fiction: TOO LONG

Backstory is essential to you: TOO LONG

You can read your book in one sitting: TOO SHORT

You can read your book in one sitting on the toilet: WAY TOO SHORT 

Makes for a great read on a cross-country road trip: TOO SHORT

Makes for a great read while driving that cross-country road trip: WAY TOO SHORT

Easy read during hard work: TOO SHORT

Hard read during easy work: TOO LONG

Can’t finish it during one of your numerous month-long vacations: TOO LONG

Would make Tolstoy look like a lightweight: TOO LONG

Would make Borges look like a heavyweight: TOO SHORT

A page-turner: TOO SHORT 

Your bookmark disintegrates before you finish: TOO LONG

Your book disintegrates before you finish: WAY TOO LONG

You read it to sleep: TOO LONG

You read it to wake up: WAIT, WHAT?

It’s something you skim during your skateboard routine: HUH?

Built a house with its pages: NOT UP TO CODE

Makes an emergency meal: YUMMY

Makes an great bonfire: PUT IT OUT AT NIGHT

Emergency floatation device: DON’T PANIC

Kills houseflies: LIFESPAN OF THIRTY DAYS

Kills house intruders: MAKE MY DAY

Writing All Wrong can be reached via email (WritingAllWrong@me.com) and followed on Twitter (@WritingAllWrong).

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Time Travel: DOs and DON’Ts

Travel writing? Why, yes, I’m fond of the sort. Evocative, painterly, introspective, resplendent. Taking my couch-planted duff off to places I’m not spending money to travel.

Oh, you’re talking time travel? Get in line.

That’s why we’re Writing All Wrong.

Greetings Curator of Blog [designation Writing All Wrong]:

I am Citizen #306765899. You may list me as “Brent Staples.” I inquire after the state of time travel in the writings of YEAR 2012. Thank you.

—”Brent Staples,” City NA9083

Hey 306765899, perhaps I should be the one asking you about how things “are cracking” in 2086 or whenever. Is redheadedness a crime where you live? I do worry about that.

I’m going to forgo opinions and instead offer sorely-needed dos and don’ts for this round of time travel.

DON’T reinvent the wheel.

Science has proven that every writer has given at least one consideration to writing time travel fiction. And many have. You’re following in the sunken footsteps of many who’ve done this before: Wells’s The Time Machine, Proust’s In Search of Lost Time, and God’s The Bible. Don’t shoot for a better wheel. Just make a good one.

DO your research.

If you’re sending characters back in time, then you’d better give a proper picture of what it was like back in the day. I’m not falling for a wooden-toothed Washington or a dragon-less court of King Canute. Same goes for future travels. It’s not guesswork: find future editions of Popular Science or postdated tech blogs that cover the science of your target era.

DON’T delve too deep into how time travel works.

If you’re not strapping on the suspenders of disbelief, then you’re in the wrong business. It’s nice to have some working knowledge of the intricacies, sure, but I’m not reading your book to find out how the heck I can warp back to 2nd grade on my own and duck when that stupidface kid punched me. Unless you’re writing a fictional textbook. That’s an idea.

DO exaggerate.

“But you said—” I know what I said, but if I wanted a history book, I’d read that. Get the facts right (Abe Lincoln was the 16th President, Hitler was a Nazi) before you take the necessary liberties (Abe Lincoln whooped his debate opponents in fencing, Hitler had plans for a Jew-seeking missile [soon thwarted].)

DON’T go gimmick.

Time travel is a common fascination, but an uncommon art. Before you sit down to write time traveling fiction, make sure that this is the best possible idea you have. Avoid using time travel as a novelty. It’s like a rocket. Pretty nift in and of itself, but not when you’re buckling it to the roof of a car. I know you want to “drive faster,” but there’s a better way of going about it.

DO write a good story, no matter what.

Great fiction wins. When your book’s pages meet the fire, burned in punitive pyres of creative purgation, may its mourners not say “This was a good time travel story,but “This was a good story.”

Writing All Wrong can be reached via email (WritingAllWrong@me.com) and followed on Twitter (@WritingAllWrong).

You Are Nothing if Not Critical

Hello, dozen or so readers:

We’re back to the scheduled regularness. My second-written, first-to-be-offered novel—The Travels of Sir Michael Zazu—is off looking for a publisher. Wish it well for me. Thanks.

In the meantime, there’s still a lot of bad writing out there.

That’s why we’re Writing All Wrong.

Hey, did you see this article: http://www.slate.com/articles/arts/books/2012/08/writers_and_readers_on_twitter_and_tumblr_we_need_more_criticism_less_liking_.html 

It’s almost like they read your blog, that is, if your blog were popular enough to read, LOL!

—Brad Millen, Akron, Ohio

I hate you. But I don’t hate the point you make.

But please, do give the article a read. It’s much more fun to read the same sort of material from someone more famous. (Done? Yay, great.)

It’s exactly why writing has become more of a sham than it deserves. Schools haven’t failed, creatives haven’t been squelched, and literacy hasn’t plummeted as much as people support.

It’s because writers are too nice. 

Nice to each other, nice to simpering fans, nice to anyone who will review for publicity, retweets, snacks, whatever. Amidst all the niceness, we’ve lost what makes writing better. You are nothing if not critical, and here’s why:

Too much niceness spoils the broth

“Oh, I love everything you do, write, and say! I love sticking @ mentions of you in my Tweets, and liking all your Facebooks and Google Plusses! I want to polygamously marry you and be wedded to your infinite goodness!”

Yeah, because that’s going to prompt good reading and/or writing. Love and hatred both falter when sharing the same blindfold.

Criticism ≠ hate

The social media honeypot abounds with sticky, sappy, gooeyness, but not enough bees. You are not a “hater” if you rightly point out a flimsy plot, stilted characters, or poor word choices across the board. You have a right to demand excellence, even if your favorite author and her fans won’t retweet it.

Fan of great writing, or fan of attention?

Which writer are you going to enjoy more: the one who acknowledges your measly existence from his lofty pedestal, or the one who writes well and couldn’t be bothered to reply to you?

Why are you a fan? No, seriously: ask that question. Don’t lie with a good answer. What about this author tickles you, makes you smile each day, enriches your life?

It’s the fact that they connect with you, isn’t it? It’s that you feel like you’re a part of their “community,” their fan base, yes? And you wouldn’t dare say an untoward thing about what they do, no? They might just—gasp—unfriend you.

I’m not saying that every popular author can’t write worth beans. But if popularity and “connectability” are the new standards of excellence, then we’ve got more going all wrong than just writing.

Writing All Wrong can be reached via email (WritingAllWrong@me.com) and followed on Twitter (@WritingAllWrong).