Well, well, what have we here? I have a big of a dilemma on my hands. Let me explain:
At long last, with the addition of 815 words, Chapter 8 of Couples Dance came to a conclusion. Yeah for me, right? Yes, it is a big yeah! Anytime you find yourself getting closer to your goal, you’re suppose to feel happy. I don’t mean get out the cognac and have a blast every time you knock off a chapter, although that might give some of you an incentive to write more throughout the day . . .
This has, by far, turned into the longest story I’ve written that isn’t a novel. As it stands, with 2 chapters to go, I’m sitting on 29,600 words of something that started out erotica, then turned into erotica-paranormal, and now has before erotica-horror. Whatever else it may be, it’s going to be long.
And here in lay the dilemma: with it dancing on the doorstep of thirty thousand words, why not turn it into a novel?
When I’m writing I use the guidelines set down by the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America to determine word count, so when they hand out a Nebula Award for something, they’ll know if they’re giving it for a novel, or a novella. Right now I’m in the middle of a novella, between 17,500 and 40,000 words. I’m very comfortable with this format; it seems as if most of my stories tend to end up in this area.
So, I’m looking at the story, and I’m checking word count, and the thought wheels start to spin: ”Oh, man, yeah . . . if I wanted to, I could turn this into a novel. All I’d have to do is hit five thousand or so words for each of the next two chapters–”
And, yes. Technically I’d have a novel. I’d have something over 40,000 words, and if the SFFWA saw fit to give me a Nebula for Best Novel, I certainly wouldn’t turn it down.
To me, however, it wouldn’t be a novel.
I’m a firm believer in ending a story when it needed to end. If your story takes six thousand words to tell, then tell it. If you need fourteen, so be it. Same if you need twenty, twenty-five, or even a shade into thirty thousand–by all means, that’s where you end.
Just as how, at times, you can tell when a story has been cut, you can also smell padding from a mile away. A couple is having a conversation for no reason; someone is hunting for something on the computer and they don’t seem to be getting anywhere; a main character sits down to blog out their thoughts . . . if it adds something to the story, then it’s part of the story. If it’s just there to run up word count, then it’s padding.
There is something else, for me, when I’m writing. Hitting 40,000 words will make it a novel, but I mean . . . that’s a pretty thin line to stand upon. Personally, for me to be happy with Couples Dance becoming a novel, I’d need to add about twenty thousand words, not just ten. And if I go into that territory, it will feel padded. I’m not saying I couldn’t do that, but I think the story would come across as less impressive if I did that.
This is going to become an interesting turn of events. This is the first time I’ve been writing a story where I’ve thought about hitting a benchmark. I shouldn’t do that, because that makes me obsessing over something that we should never obsess over. The only time you should worry about word count is when you’re trying to get in under a line, not over.
The lesson is: Don’t Worry. Write and Let the Story Come to You.
You wanna write, write. You wanna count, become an accountant.