THE SHAPE OF A NOVEL

Lori Knight asked this question a few weeks ago: “With the huge trend toward e-books, why do romance books have to be limited to about 350 pages? I’ve read several hundred books lately which suffered from rushed or incomplete endings. Do publishers require this? How does this impact your writing?”

It’s an interesting question–or, rather, three questions. I don’t know the answer to the first one, though I have always assumed two things: (a) that publishers like books of the same type to be similar in length so that they are easier to plan and design and budget for–and so that readers know what to expect.  And (b) that they have done some market research and know the approximate length of certain types of books that most readers prefer. I don’t pretend to be a typical reader, but I do know that with most paperback books I prefer a length of 350-375 pages maximum. It has to be an exceptional book to hold my interest if it is longer than that.

I have something more personal to say on Lori’s other comments and questions. If a book has a rushed or incomplete ending, the fault is not with the demands a publisher or editor has imposed upon the author. The fault is squarely with the author! Any book, no matter how long or short, has a shape and should read smoothly as though it is the perfect length and that its parts are perfectly proportioned. It is up to the author to impose this shape on a book. It is not easy, of course! Nothing about the writing process is easy (which is not the same thing as saying it is not the best job in the world!).

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I sometimes ask people in the process of writing a book what word count they are aiming for. I am always a bit startled when the answer is that there is no expectation, that the book will be as long as it turns out to be when the story is told. I know all writers are different and this approach may work for many, but it wouldn’t work for me. I need to know the approximate word count I am aiming for before I start so that I can shape the story accordingly. This way I can be sure to leave enough words to write an ending that is just the right length and to spend enough time on the middle section without allowing it to be too thin on material or downright sagging with dullness. After writing so many books, the shape is almost instinctive as I write. But if I were ever to find myself close to the end of my word count with a great deal of the story yet to tell, I would have to go back to change things so that I could give myself enough room at the end. If I allowed the hurried ending to stand and merely grumbled about not having been allowed more words and pages, then I would be to blame for the inferior book I was turning out.  No, really, writers have a responsibility to give their readers their very best professional effort–even if going back to reshape is going to take extra time.

Incidentally, I love writing novellas of 25,000 words or so as opposed to the 100,000 word novels I write most of the time. I always say that novellas are all beginning and end without any of the pesky middle. But they still have the same shape and must be written accordingly. A novella is not just a severely curtailed novel. It is a work of art in itself (think miniature as opposed to large canvas).

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To one person who leaves a comment below before the end of Friday, February 7, I will send an autographed copy of my two-in-one volume of DARK ANGEL and LORD CAREW’S BRIDE, They are two of my earlier 75,000 word Regency romances. Last week’s winner was Meaghan Miller. Congratulations to her.

OBSESSED WITH THE BEDWYNS

Oh, goodness, I asked for it, didn’t I? I invited your questions in order to gather ideas for my blog posts and I got a whole lot of them, all of which I have been wanting to rush in to answer! Thank you so much for them all. And I was foolish enough to say I would give the signed book prize to the person whose question I answered first in my blog. That would seem to imply that one of the questions was going to be better than all the others. Not so! However, I have had to choose one, the one I most want to answer first. I will draw on the other questions for my blogs for many weeks to come, but in future the winner of the giveaway book will be randomly drawn from those who leave comments! So… The first question I am going to tackle is Laura Amundson‘s (congratulations to her) and this is it:

“I’m a little obsessed with the Bedwyns, in particular Wulfric and Christine. I’ve appreciated the glimpses we’ve had of them in your later books, and by my count they’ve started on their second child and appear happy. However, given that Christine is a free spirit and he isn’t, I wonder how they manage to get along on a daily basis. Would you ever think of tackling that bump in a later book?”

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A few other people asked me how I can bear to leave characters behind at the end of a series. Some of you also made specific reference to the Bedwyns.

I really love writing series. I love building a group of characters through several books, writing the perfect (I hope) love story for each of them as I go, and building to a climax with the last book and character. I always keep the one I think of as the key character of the group for last–Wulfric in the Bedwyns, Claudia in the SIMPLYs, Constantine in the Huxtables, the Duke of Stanbrook in the Survivors’ Club. And while all the love stories in the series have to be as perfect as I can make it, the final one has to be outstanding. It is the one most readers have been waiting for, and it is the one that wraps up the whole series, that leaves the final, overall impression.

I love writing series, but there is a certain amount of tension involved in the process too. I don’t want there to be a weak book among them, and the final book is particularly stressful. Expectations are high for it. I felt that especially with Wufric. I was terrified when I came to his book and made a false start with quite the wrong heroine before I discovered Christine, who was so unsuitable for him that she had to be the right one. How do I feel at the end of a series? Relieved, drained, happy to have completed a body of work I can be proud of. I have been deeply involved with that group and I have done my best for them. I can believe in their future. I have set them up to be happy with their respective spouses, provided they work on their love relationship for the rest of their lives. Of course there will be problems. I want to give the illusion that these are real people involved in real living, and there is no such thing in real life as happily-ever-after. There are bound to be tensions between Wulfric and Christine. They are so very different in personality. However, they are also complementary and are deeply attached to each other. They will deal in all the bumps in the road ahead of them.

Will I ever revisit any of the relationships I have set up in any of my books, apart from a few cameo appearances in future books? No. Their love stories are complete, and that is what I write–love stories. I couldn’t possibly do anything like creating a conflict between any of my lovers sufficient to demand another book so that they can have a second chance. That would be horrible! That would mean I had failed the first time, that my endings could not be trusted, that they are negotiable.

Besides, once I have finished with a set of characters, I can relax and enjoy them in retropsect while I move on to something new. Revisiting them would mean having to think my way back into their lives, get a feel for them again. It would not be easy, and I would be coming at them from a different place in my own life. No, I choose to leave them as they are–most of the time! Of course, I did think my way back into the two MISTRESS books (MORE THAN A MISTRESS, NO MAN’S MISTRESS) in order to write THE SECRET MISTRESS a few years later. It was not easy or particularly comfortable!

So no. There may be future glimpses of the Duke of Bewcastle and the other Bedwyns, but they will never again figure centrally in any of my books.

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I have a few copies left of SLIGHTLY WICKED, the second book of the Bedwyn series (Rannulf’s story). To one person who leaves a comment here before Friday, January 25, I will send a signed copy of the book. And next time I will tackle another of the questions you asked last week. You can still add to that list, by the way.

 

QUESTIONS, PLEASE?

My weekly blog has been silent for a while, as you may have noticed. I do apologize, but here is the problem. I love having written it and I love reading all your responses. I love giving away copies of my books to a weekly winner. What I don’t enjoy so much is the time involved in thinking up a new topic each week. I find it time-consuming and stressful and exhausting. I took time off a month or so ago and now can’t persuade myself to get started again. But I do want to! And I want to hear from you again!

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This is what I have decided to try. Why don’t you use the comment boxes below to ask me any questions you would like answered even if they are just my opinion upon some topic of general interest? I think I would find answering questions easy enough, and I am always ready to share my thoughts. And then you would have the opportunity to comment on what I say. It sounds like a win/win situation to me. At least, I hope it will be. I suppose I am a bit of a throw-back to an age when the only real contact between writers and readers was at conventions or via snail mail. Through most of my career all that has been required of me is that I write more books. I look in awe at all the social media thingies younger writers involve themselves in with great energy and enthusiasm.

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So–over to you. Ask your questions. And to the first person whose question I use, I will send a signed copy of THE SECRET MISTRESS.