Saturday, 23 January 2010

Questions about writing 1#

I often get queries sent through my website about areas of writing and sometimes the reply I send bounces.  I am never sure if this is because they are some kind of inventive spam or just one of these weird things that sometimes happen out there in the ether.

So, not wanting to upset anyone who has taken the time to write to me and not got a reply and also not being very technically adept, I thought it would be an interesting idea to write the occasional post on writing, sparked off by these questions.  I would welcome the thoughts of other writers, editors and agents out there - because when it comes to specifics about writing a lot of it is a huge grey area with all sorts of different points of view.
After all if it was that simple there would be a list of rules and anyone who followed them would be an instant success. 

So this week  - two quite different questions from Kirsty and Tasnim.

Q1- from Tasnim  -  who I assume doesn't live in the UK - and wants to write for children between the ages of 8-13 and asks what are the stipulated word limits in the UK
Tasnim - This is one of those questions that sounds like it should be very easy to answer but its not quite that simple.  Children who are in this age range might want to read very different books.  You may have a very competent reader who will be able to read long fairly complex storylines examples of this are Philp Pullman's His Dark Materials trilogy (Northern Lights(or known as The Golden Compass in the US), The Subtle Knife and The Anber Spyglass) or the Harry Potter series.

                 Other children may be put off by the thought of tackling something as long as those and be happier with much shorter books.
                 When I was reseaching for my book Writing for Children I spoke to a number of editors at some of the larger publishers and the consesus was that they were reluctant to suggest word length at all.  They said that books were more 'author led'.
                I think that what they mean is that it is the story, and the way the author tells it, will dictate the length that works for that particular story. As always the story must be as long or as short as it needs to be btu I know how confusing that can be if you are starting out.  I suppose it can also depend on whether you are writing for the top or lower end of that age group, and even then books vary so much.  You can have some that are as short as 15-20,000 words and others that are as long as 60,000+ words.
                  My advice would be write your book and see how long it is and then go to a good bookshop and look at books similar to the one you are writing. See the variations in length and which publishers are publishing that kind of story.  If it looks like your story is far too long you may want to have a second look and see if your story is really as well written as you can make it. It needs to interest the reader from start to finish, and make sure you haven't made it longer than it needs to be.  Don't waffle to make it longer. Kids hate that.

Q2- from Kirsty  - Who says she is good at writing stories but wanted to know how to make her writing more interesting.
Kirsty -  If you want to make your stories more interesting there are a few things you need to think about.   The beginning of your story should make the person reading it desperate to keep reading.  You know, the kind of story that makes you beg for a few more minutes before you have to turn off the light and go to sleep.
                 Start your story with something happening and don't have a long drawn out beginning.   Your characters could be running away from something, or having an argument or a fight.  If you begin with your main character being worried about something that's going to happen, or something that they have done; that can make you want to read on.  But don't tell everything at once. Give little clues so that the person reading it wants to discover what is wrong, or what it is they did.

                  When I am writing I like to think of it like a film running in my head as I write. If I can imagine it happening, and if I know my characters well enough, I get so wrapped up in the story that I don't want to stop until it is finished.
                   Sometimes when I start to write I don't know how the story will end but that doesn't matter too much.  Although I do like to stop after a bit and think about what the end of the story might be.  Even then I often don't quite know how I am going to get my characters to the end I have planned.
                   But for me, that is the fun of writing.


  1. Thanks, Linda, for such an informative, useful and interesting post. Having only written short stories, poems and articles before, I embarked on NaNoWriMo this year and I am now 67,000 words into my 1st novel which I have aimed at the 9-13 year old market. I had no idea what or who I was going to write about until a week before I started and I was worried about how long it should be. Bit your info above has helped.

    Many thanks

    Julie xx

  2. Hi Julie
    Well done. It is often really difficult to get down to writing something like a novel when you have been writing short pieces for a while.
    I love it when I get to the end of the first draft of a story because then there is something to work with, the fine tuning and editing is often as fascinating as working out the plot. Except for the times when you look at a bit of writing you are really proud of and realise that it just has to go - then you have to 'murder your darlings' and that can be hard.