Word-count Doesn’t Matter

Many of us have spent the month pouring out words to make our 1,667 word daily goal for our NaNoWriMo novels. How many days did you hit the goal? How often did you write more, or less?

It doesn’t matter.

It also doesn’t matter if you wrote 50,000 words of something resembling a novel or 25,000 words of rough notes. Why? Because writing takes time, thought, and effort. Often, especially when we are starting, we are writing to ourselves; writing to discover.

Writing is an odd activity. It is both a craft and an art. You can follow a pattern or you can simply wing it with no idea what will show up on the page. Often the intent to write a novel doesn’t lead to one. Sometimes a short story will develop into a novel. Telling ourselves we will write a novel in November may be the wrong way to start.

Creativity Matters. Art Matters

What matters is the creative intention, and the art that sometimes results. The words will come later. I argue they’ll flow and word-count will soar. Writing takes long concentration, even when writing a popular thriller. There’s a deep craft to writing such stories well. We need creative concentration to produce anything of worth.

Often, the words building new stories come slowly because we’re discovering. We deliberate and make choices over each sentence. Is this part of the story? What is this character telling me about themselves? How is this world shaping itself with each description?

We need time to let the story bake. It’s like forming a dough and shaping it into a crust, then baking it. Once we have the shell, and the story is firm in our minds, we can then pour in the word filling.

Get to Know Your Story

Some NaNo participants spend October, and even part of September going through that early writing stage. I’ve found I’m not really an outliner, but I’m not a pantser either. Apparently I’m what’s called a plantser. I wrote a long series of notes about what my novel was about and what happened in it. I thought I was prepared for NaNoWriMo. I wasn’t. The story didn’t really move during the first two weeks. I wrote words, but I knew few of them would ever make it into the story. I stopped writing for a few days and thought about what I had written. I thought more about what I hadn’t.

During those two days my story-world changed drastically. A key non-POV character emerged as a secondary POV, and a plot line I had dropped suddenly became workable. Once those pieces fell into place, I knew the story—really knew it. I couldn’t have reached that point without writing the first 12,000 words. I wrote over 3,000 words every day for the next ten. I’m still writing above the 1,667 target because the words come easy now.

Give yourself time to let the story sink in. Think about the choices you’ve made. Listen to your characters. Observe your world. Follow the logic of your plot. Then let the words flow.

You might only have those 900 words, but they may tell you something. The words you haven’t found may be there between the lines. Read what you’ve written; soak in the words and let your creative intention consider them. No words you write are ever wasted words. Story matters more than word-count.

How has your NaNoWriMo gone?

Magic System or Just Magic?

Choosing the right form of magic for your novel

The debate is not new, and I’m not looking to reignite it, or even consider it a debate. Both are legitimate approaches to writing magic. But selecting how magic works in your story should be a deliberate choice not a subconscious default.

Magic in fantasy often comes through detailed written rules and conjured through incantation or ritual, like recipes in a cookbook. Complex rules contained within arcane spell books have appeared in the most popular fantasy novels—think Harry Potter. But many novels use muted, less defined magic. The works of Guy Gavriel Kay come to mind as does Tolkien’s. Patricia McKillip often uses what you might call natural magic where the magic is not conjured but simply exists in the world and inside its inhabitants. No one knows the full capabilities or limitations of the magic.

Which Form of Magic is Best?

Which should you choose for your novel? Or should you do a mixture? Like all things in writing, the answer is, it depends.

Many authors choose whichever form they prefer as a reader. If your readers share your tastes, this may be an acceptable choice. Just know that readers who don’t share your taste may be less interested in your books.

An alternative is to write to your expected reader’s preferences or the sub-genre’s accepted tropes. Literary and Low Fantasy often use subtle or natural magic. Epic and High Fantasy lean toward complex magic systems. Going against tropes and expectations might also limit your readers. You might see where I’m heading with this.

You Can’t Please Everyone

If your personal preference turns some readers off and breaking a sub-genre expectation also turns away a portion of the audience, what should you do?

There’s a third option. Each story has a type organic to it. Perhaps your epic fantasy world has magic living in the trees. This could be a case where going against typical epic tropes might serve the story better. Rather than a complicated codex of spells for tree magic, allowing the characters in the story (along with the readers) to discover what the magic is and can do, may make a more satisfying story but still within an epic setting. After all, the goal is to write an immersive, complete, and satisfying story.

To make these choices, the author must know their story deeply. Take time to examine your world and how it works. Understand how your characters connect to the world and each other. Once you have a deep understanding of magic’s relationship and role in your world, the form of magic that fits your story best is the one you should use.

Even if what fits the story goes against sub-genre expectations, if the story is strong and the magic works on a level that connects characters to their situation and each other, readers will be less likely to care about the magic’s form. They will enjoy a deeply imagined story because you made a deliberate choice in presenting magic that was organic and unique to the story.