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In praise...
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...of minimum word counts, of all things - something I never would have predicted when I was younger. When I was younger (i.e., even back when I went to Clarion, 6 years ago), I was a writing romantic, and I didn't believe in wordcounts. Picking a random number of words that must be written every single day? How totally anal. How totally unromantic. How totally not me.

Well, guess what? They are me, because they work. I finished up the final, final rewrites of Kat by Moonlight last week, returned to Kat by Starlight after almost two months off...and spent the next several days not writing. I wasn't in the mood of the novel, I didn't know exactly what happened next, I hated the only line I could think of to write next, I didn't feel like writing at all.... Several days in a row, I opened up my novel to the point where I'd left off, 3 pages into Chapter 5, stared at it blankly for about 10 minutes, and then closed the file again. I complained to everyone I talked to about how badly I was procrastinating.

Then yesterday I set myself a daily wordcount: 500 words. It's not massive, but it's undeniably do-able. And when I opened up the file, I winced but went ahead and wrote down that crappy line that was the only one I'd been able to think of to write next....and then I wrote another 700 words that felt good, because it all flowed from there. Today I sat down, wrote 200 words, felt morose, thought about quitting, but I was determined to finish up my 500 - and I ended up writing 1300 words, finishing the chapter, and absolutely loving the scene I got to write in the last few pages.

So I'll be sticking with my minimum wordcounts for the time being, no matter how much they would have horrified my younger self.


In the meantime, I found a great writing post via Marjorie Liu: (Buffy-writer) Jane Espenson's blog entry Look Alive, which is all about keeping ALL your characters alive in every scene. It's really good advice, from a perspective I hadn't thought about before. One of the points I thought was most important was this:

It's also, in general, a good idea to give all the important players in a scene a line up near the front of the scene. It's very distracting to a reader to have someone start speaking in the middle of the scene if the reader wasn't even aware they were in the room. I know, you mentioned them in the stage direction at the top, but that's kind of the point: if a character isn't actually speaking, they're not really fully present to the reader.

This one rang particularly true to me because just recently I bought a book which I ended up throwing across the room in frustration after only 40 pages, and never going back to. I was constantly being thrown by the writer's lack of scene-setting in exactly the way Espenson describes (except even worse) - the heroine would walk into a room, observe the furnishings and 2 people, whom she'd talk to, and then five pages later, 4 other people would start contributing to their conversation, and I would be totally caught off guard. Wait, where did they come from? Did they just walk into the room? No, the heroine isn't surprised to hear them speak, so they must have been here all along. How many people are there in here anyway? It was so discombobulating that the whole reading experience became actively unpleasant, which is a worst-case scenario for any writer.

And in a funny moment of synchronicity, yesterday, just after reading some of the online kerfuffle about J.K. Rowling's Dumbledore revelation, I read James Austen-Leigh's A Memoir of Jane Austen, in which he talks about one of the Austen family's favorite games: pumping Jane Austen for revelations about her characters' backstories, future stories, and details that hadn't been included in her novels.
In this traditionary way we learned that Miss Steele never succeeded in catching the Doctor; that Kitty Bennet was satisfactorily married to a clergyman near Pemberley, while Mary obtained nothing higher than one of her uncle Phillip's clerks, and was content to be considered a star in the society of Meriton; that the 'considerable sum' given by Mrs Norris to William Price was one pound...and that the letters placed by Frank Churchill before Jane Fairfax, which she swept away unread, contained the word 'pardon'.

I also found out that Jane Austen was harshly criticized by the literary reviewers of her time for making her characters too realistic. Always good to realize just how culturally-based our standards of "good" writing really are...

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