Shelley Widhalm

Archive for February, 2013|Monthly archive page

The Novel or Novella Question

In 52: A Writer's Life, Shelley Widhalm on February 24, 2013 at 11:00 am

Has the definition of what makes a novel, versus a novella changed?

I read in a recent issue of one of my writing magazines that a novella falls between a short story and a novel and runs 15,000 to 80,000 words.

Thank goodness my novel is 87,000 words, barely making it a novel, at least according to this definition.

But I must admit I am a bit perplexed.

From my previous reading and research, I understood that novels are 50,000 to 110,000 words, and that epics or sagas span 110,000 words or more. More specifically, full-length fiction is 80,000 to 100,000 words, the same length for most first-time novels. And a novella is 20,000 to 50,000 words.

A novella has a narrower scope than a novel but one that is wider than a short story. It contains fewer characters and plot lines to tell the story that can be consumed in one or two sittings.

If a novella has more pages according to this “new” definition, it would span 65 to 265 pages or 80 to 320 pages, based on the average number of words per page at 250 or 300 words.

The actual word count of my novel, “The Fire Painter,” at nearly 90,000 words means it is 299 pages at 300 words per page, or 360 pages. That’s only 40 more pages than the infamous novella.

That’s a bit disappointing.

As a reader, I would hate to think that the 265- to 320-page books that I’ve been reading, depending on if they have 300 or 250 words per page, were actually novellas. I thought I was reading novels, especially since most books I read are between 250 to 400 pages in all genres.

Quite frankly, I hope the article I read had a typo or that the definition was an outlier, not the norm.

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Revision Obsession

In 52: A Writer's Life, Revising, Shelley Widhalm, Writing on February 17, 2013 at 11:00 am

I got so caught up in revising my novel that I skipped my weekly blog last week.

In other words, I fell off the blog wagon, particularly considering that I almost skipped this week, too, until I remembered my cyber-promise.

In 2013, I plan to write a blog a week about writing, revising and editing for 52:A Writer’s Life. Given my mess-up, my blog should be renamed 51, but that wouldn’t fit with the one-year plan.

I have 40 pages left to revise in my 287-page novel that used to be 298 pages. I cut and added, rearranged and rewrote, spending about 30 hours on the first draft. I plan to spend Monday (which is my Sunday) finishing the revision that is directly on the computer.

As I revise (my next draft will be marking up a printout version), I am trying to get to the core of my story. My novel, “The Fire Painter,” is about a 30-something artist who loses everything in an apartment fire and, as she searches for her lost things, finds what’s really important.

To bore down to that core:

• I cut unnecessary details that didn’t push the story forward, like descriptions of clothing when just one or two items was enough, such as Megan’s short skirt and scarf. I didn’t need her crop top mentioned, too, even though she likes to show off her model thin body.

• I cut partial scenes that were near repeats of other scenes (what was I thinking?). Patricia, a benefactress who donates art supplies to Kate after she lost hers, shows Kate the same photograph twice, when I meant for that to happen once. Ty, Kate’s love interest, asks her out on two similar dates; though that happens in real life, it doesn’t work in the story world.

• I added to the dialogue with physical actions and emotional responses when I was confused over who was speaking.

• I expanded scenes where there seemed to be a gap in logistics, action or response among characters.

• I tightened my descriptions, deleting unnecessary words and actions to simplify what I was expressing.

As I edited, I worked to smooth my story, removing any rough spots that are jarring to the ear or the mind. The story remains rough, because for me I require at least half a dozen revisions before I believe I’ve found the core. At that point, I put the story aside for six or more months, enabling a new perspective and more fine-tuning.

The Editing Plunge

In 52: A Writer's Life, Revising, Shelley Widhalm, Writing on February 2, 2013 at 11:00 am

It is official: I’ve taken the editing plunge.

I’m not saying that I don’t like editing; it’s just that there are other things I prefer, like writing. I like editing short stories, news articles and other things I’ve written, but revising an entire novel is a bit daunting.

Like right now, I had planned to revise my novel, a 90,000-word account of a 30-something artist who loses everything in an apartment fire called “The Fire Painter,” but I figured I could do some writing first by blogging about not wanting to edit.

So far, I’ve edited 30 pages of the 296 I’ve written (the lines are at 1 ½ spaces), spreading the work over three days. When I looked at page 31 just now, it felt as if there are a million pages left to work over for the second draft.

I started editing my novel on Wednesday, Jan. 23, though I had planned to begin on Jan. 1 with the New Year. I had excuses, of course.
So, on Jan. 23, i.e. 01-23, I was nervous facing a huge revision project that can’t be finished in a few hours or days. I was already sick of chapter 1, having edited it with my writer’s group and a couple of my friends, plus I practically have it memorized. I surprised myself by enjoying reading/editing/red marking it and finding lines I hadn’t remembered writing.

I initially asked, “Is my first paragraph the best it could be?” I read it over a half-dozen times, trying to fine-tune it so that it would hook the reader with intriguing use of language and an interesting character and situation. I changed the last sentence from being about coffee (my character and I are both addicted to caffeine) to wanting to paint life beyond the clothing racks – my character works in retail, while seeking the life of the artist.

By the end of two hours editing seven pages, I felt drained and could not face looking at chapter 2. I had made several line cuts, tightened up descriptions and found some inconsistencies and word echoes.

I edited the next four chapters (I tend to write short chapters) over the next two days, spending about an hour per 10 pages.

Originally, I intended the second draft to be a read through, but it’s becoming more of a line edit where I’m trying to fix errors at the sentence level. I think I will revise for overall structure during the third draft. So much for following my own editing guidelines.
But at least I’ve taken the plunge.