The Meta V2

Valnus

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Jun 21, 2021
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Hi All

In a effort to provide more of a context and detail of my process ( for what it's worth ) I want to try and inform a more percise answer to a few questions I have as a newbie on the writing block. I use Scrivener and so far have plotted Characters and Locations and done research as I go. I am not able to outline the entire story from start to finish and as mentioned i am more of a pantser. This must not be mistaken with "I don't know what I want to do". I have a start and a end and so far I have tried to follow the Hero's journey in this regard. The detail of how I get to my end and what I want my characters to experince is firmly set in my mind. Lastly my goal for my first novel is to finish it . I am aiming to redraft once my main goal achived.

Now to the questions.

1) How long should a chapter be word count wise or should I rather aim at a goal for the chapter. If so how do I do that
considering my current process ?
2) Speaking of a the hero's journey. How bad will it be for the reader the good guy loses so to speak. I have seen many videos advising against this as the audiance loves a happy ending. My thoughs then jump to Game of Thrones and the fact that there is very little happy there and yet enjoyes commurcial success.

Thanks again for the input and support this site generates
 

Venusian Broon

Defending the SF genre with terminal intensity
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Hi All

Now to the questions.

1) How long should a chapter be word count wise or should I rather aim at a goal for the chapter. If so how do I do that
considering my current process ?

This is a sort of 'How long is a piece of string' question, It will depend on a lot of factors.

Personally I think you should be doing variable length chapters - a bit like paragraphs & sentences - as having everything the same length will be monotonous.

As to the actual length, I come out with an average of ~2500 words per chapter, but that's my own development history that sort of settled on chapters that length. Other authors will have different average lengths, I'm sure. Probably best to write a good number of chapters, say 10, and see what comes out naturally for yourself.

Overall word count will of course depend on adding up all those chapters

If you are keen on trad publishing and submitting it to agents etc, and it's your first book, then it would pay to look at guidlines that are expected - that will depend on genres. They can vary a lot, but for a novel, you should be aiming for 80-120k (? Possibly I am going a bit high, but around there, as I am thiking about epic Space opera and Fantasy, which all tend to be a bit fatter!) Hence I'd have 48 chapters approximately to wrap things up for a 120k piece! Currently I have 41 plotted out, so I'm in under that limit.

If you are pantsing and don't have a clue about how many chapters you actually have, you could pick an upper limit and, having a rough idea from above on how long your chapters are, you would give yourself an idea of how close you were to 'completion'. Then just write away. However, it may be that you are on chapter 38/48, say, and you know that you are nowhere near finishing. In that case either just write to the end and see what comes out in terms of length, or force yourself to have a good look at what you've written and be honest on how much padding you might have put in and perhaps 'kill your babies'. (Personally I would go with the first way, get it all out the first time, the way you want it to be, then learn what went wrong and right.)

If you are self-publishing, this sort of wordcount limit is less relevent, and you could aim for a much higher figure, but I personally would always try to aim for a lower figure and even keep within the range for trad pub, as this promotes a healthy regard for cutting out irrelevant writing and keeping your plot and work tight.

And of course if you are established with a big fanbase you are more than welcome to write huge series of door stoppers the size of large bricks.


2) Speaking of a the hero's journey. How bad will it be for the reader the good guy loses so to speak. I have seen many videos advising against this as the audiance loves a happy ending. My thoughs then jump to Game of Thrones and the fact that there is very little happy there and yet enjoyes commurcial success.

The problem with Game of Thrones is that it's a huge story with lots of arcs that are still to be settled, so we are impelled to wade through a lot of horrible bits where the 'good guys' lose, because we sort of expect that there will be a cartharsis of some sort at the end. We shall see.

It is certainly possible to have a novel where the good guy loses - 1984 and Brave New World comes to mind immediately - but the authors were trying to say more than a good story. They were making a deeper statement about the world.

My advice would be to write it as you see it and then see what your beta readers think about. Don't worry too much at the moment, just get it all out first.
 

The Judge

Truth. Order. Moderation.
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Since this is your first draft of your first novel, the most important thing is that you enjoy the process and the writing, and generally getting to know your characters, so don't worry about anything! If you make a complete horlicks of this draft it really doesn't matter. Try and tune in to being a child at primary school let loose with all the paints -- it's a chance for play and experimentation, so don't put any pressure on yourself to produce great art. The second draft -- and third and fourth and so on... -- are there to put right anything that isn't quite what it should be.

Meanwhile, to deal with your specific queries:

1a) word count -- as long as a piece of string! There are no end of threads on Chrons where people come in and ask what the rules are on this one, but there are no rules beyond Does It Work? My personal preference when writing is around 2.5-3.5k per chapter, but I go by the feel of what's gone on, the number of scenes, and where's best to end to propel the story forward -- it's a moveable feast depending on the chapter itself. So don't get hung up on numbers!

1b) goal -- writing to achieve a goal can help if you are a plotter. (And you're clearly more of a plotter than you think you are if you've already sorted out the characters!) For myself, I just write what comes next for the story, with the aim of moving the story on, making sure that as well as forward momentum it also provides characterisation and atmosphere. Sometimes when I was first starting it meant some chapters didn't do enough to justify being there, but that was no problem as they were simply dumped, or heavily pruned and joined up with the preceding or following chapter.

2) I can't help much with this one as (a) I've never bothered reading up on the hero's journey to see what can and can't happen and (b) I've not read ASoIaF, but personally I would be royally p*ssed if after reading 150k words of a standalone novel I get to the end and find the bad guy wins. It's true to life, but we don't write life which is messy and unstructured and full of repetition and useless characters, we write stories which people want to read, and most people having invested so much time in the main character will want him/her to succeed and may feel cheated if things don't work out. But again much depends on the story. If the MC is an anti-hero, then it may be the reader would be happy for him/her to fail so that something like "good" prevails -- I can think of a Iain M Banks story where that's the case, and of course with something like The Day of the Jackal, we know the MC won't succeed but it's still a wholly satisfactory ending. As for ASoIsF, I believe it has a lot of viewpoint characters, none of whom is the definitive MC, so with lots of players the readers are not looking for a particular MC to win, but more that they want to know who will emerge at the top of the heap and how. And, of course, having the MC succeed doesn't mean the ending can't be sad or ambiguous -- it's possible for the MC to die after defeating the enemy, or for there to be a consideration of all that's been lost so it's something of a Pyrrhic victory.

Not sure if any of that has helped! Good luck with the writing, anyway!

EDIT: Damn. VB beat me to it by a minute!
 

alexvss

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2) Speaking of a the hero's journey. How bad will it be for the reader the good guy loses so to speak. I have seen many videos advising against this as the audiance loves a happy ending. My thoughs then jump to Game of Thrones and the fact that there is very little happy there and yet enjoyes commurcial success.

Thanks again for the input and support this site generates
If you really wish to complete a hero's journey, then the hero has to win at the end. Note that he may die, but he must fullfill his Need (but maybe not his Want). Also, note that a hero's jouney can be prolonged for several novels. There's no need for it to complete in a single piece of work.

The protagonist losing/dying at the end is commonplace. It's a trope, even. It's the myth of Icarus. Ascension and descension. Think of Raging Bull.
 

Wayne Mack

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1) How long should a chapter be word count wise or should I rather aim at a goal for the chapter. If so how do I do that
considering my current process ?
I worried about chapter length at one time, but then I realized that after the text is written, I could always combine short sections into one chapter and split longer sections into multiple chapters. I tend to use more of a gut feel approach to my chapters based on whether it was a good point to let the reader put the book down and come back to it later.

In my current story, my shortest chapter is 123 words and my longest is 4,378.

2) Speaking of a the hero's journey. How bad will it be for the reader the good guy loses so to speak.
Tell the story as you think it should unfold. If it is truly arbitrary whether the main character wins or loses, then perhaps the story should end earlier, ala "The Lady or the Tiger." One thing to be careful of is that having the good guys fail at the end is often seen as a way to force the reader to buy a sequel. Make sure the end is a clear and definite conclusion in its own right.
 

Flaviosky

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As everyone said, there are myriad colors in what can be made about a defeat of the MC, but always keeping an eye on consistency. Like @alexvss said, a hero's journey story ends with the hero getting victorious, but there's many shades of grey in what can be called a victory. The hero's journey also focuses on the character development of the MC, with him embracing his mission and ending as another person, and following @The Judge , you can perfectly use that "defeat" as just another step and not necessarily an ending, and if it is, giving it a twist. Redemtpion arcs tend to act that way, many times with the MC dying to fulfill his arc.
 

Valnus

Member
Joined
Jun 21, 2021
Messages
8
This is a sort of 'How long is a piece of string' question, It will depend on a lot of factors.

Personally I think you should be doing variable length chapters - a bit like paragraphs & sentences - as having everything the same length will be monotonous.

As to the actual length, I come out with an average of ~2500 words per chapter, but that's my own development history that sort of settled on chapters that length. Other authors will have different average lengths, I'm sure. Probably best to write a good number of chapters, say 10, and see what comes out naturally for yourself.

Overall word count will of course depend on adding up all those chapters

If you are keen on trad publishing and submitting it to agents etc, and it's your first book, then it would pay to look at guidlines that are expected - that will depend on genres. They can vary a lot, but for a novel, you should be aiming for 80-120k (? Possibly I am going a bit high, but around there, as I am thiking about epic Space opera and Fantasy, which all tend to be a bit fatter!) Hence I'd have 48 chapters approximately to wrap things up for a 120k piece! Currently I have 41 plotted out, so I'm in under that limit.

If you are pantsing and don't have a clue about how many chapters you actually have, you could pick an upper limit and, having a rough idea from above on how long your chapters are, you would give yourself an idea of how close you were to 'completion'. Then just write away. However, it may be that you are on chapter 38/48, say, and you know that you are nowhere near finishing. In that case either just write to the end and see what comes out in terms of length, or force yourself to have a good look at what you've written and be honest on how much padding you might have put in and perhaps 'kill your babies'. (Personally I would go with the first way, get it all out the first time, the way you want it to be, then learn what went wrong and right.)

If you are self-publishing, this sort of wordcount limit is less relevent, and you could aim for a much higher figure, but I personally would always try to aim for a lower figure and even keep within the range for trad pub, as this promotes a healthy regard for cutting out irrelevant writing and keeping your plot and work tight.

And of course if you are established with a big fanbase you are more than welcome to write huge series of door stoppers the size of large bricks.




The problem with Game of Thrones is that it's a huge story with lots of arcs that are still to be settled, so we are impelled to wade through a lot of horrible bits where the 'good guys' lose, because we sort of expect that there will be a cartharsis of some sort at the end. We shall see.

It is certainly possible to have a novel where the good guy loses - 1984 and Brave New World comes to mind immediately - but the authors were trying to say more than a good story. They were making a deeper statement about the world.

My advice would be to write it as you see it and then see what your beta readers think about. Don't worry too much at the moment, just get it all out first.
Wow ok I have reread this now 3 times thank you for the detailed reposnse. I wish I could do a Epic door stopper of a series with the fan base that turn out of the crappy TV adpation but thats more skycastles.

Follow up technical question. How do you know if a chapter is done and where to draw the line ?

If this is hard to layout maybe I could just break the writhing up by idea's . For example chapter one happens at a hight school and ends with the protaginists walking home from school and musesing over the day and what tomorow brings and then Chapter 2 can start with a carry over event from Chapter 2 and on and on. This is what comes to mined but my second Chapter is 4K in word count and I am not close to getting done what I want to happen.
 

Valnus

Member
Joined
Jun 21, 2021
Messages
8
I worried about chapter length at one time, but then I realized that after the text is written, I could always combine short sections into one chapter and split longer sections into multiple chapters. I tend to use more of a gut feel approach to my chapters based on whether it was a good point to let the reader put the book down and come back to it later.

In my current story, my shortest chapter is 123 words and my longest is 4,378.


Tell the story as you think it should unfold. If it is truly arbitrary whether the main character wins or loses, then perhaps the story should end earlier, ala "The Lady or the Tiger." One thing to be careful of is that having the good guys fail at the end is often seen as a way to force the reader to buy a sequel. Make sure the end is a clear and definite conclusion in its own right.
Hmmm very thought provoking. I think I need to stop worrying about the technical detail and write.
The bit about the hero losing is a tad worring as my take was " Life does not work out the way you want it and sometimes the creepy clow eats all the kids and Harry does not save the day". I might need to break the protaginists apart into seprate books after the first just to make this work.

I know new ideas are rare in books just as they are in movies but I need to atleast try.
 

Valnus

Member
Joined
Jun 21, 2021
Messages
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Tell the story as you think it should unfold. If it is truly arbitrary whether the main character wins or loses, then perhaps the story should end earlier, ala "The Lady or the Tiger." One thing to be careful of is that having the good guys fail at the end is often seen as a way to force the reader to buy a sequel. Make sure the end is a clear and definite conclusion in its own right.

Balls to the wall a problem now. Not that I intended to do multiple books.
 

Valnus

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Joined
Jun 21, 2021
Messages
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As everyone said, there are myriad colors in what can be made about a defeat of the MC, but always keeping an eye on consistency. Like @alexvss said, a hero's journey story ends with the hero getting victorious, but there's many shades of grey in what can be called a victory. The hero's journey also focuses on the character development of the MC, with him embracing his mission and ending as another person, and following @The Judge , you can perfectly use that "defeat" as just another step and not necessarily an ending, and if it is, giving it a twist. Redemtpion arcs tend to act that way, many times with the MC dying to fulfill his arc.

The ending as another person is a big idea with my MC well to be honest all the characters, That might need to be enough.

Thank you for the reply
 

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