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 UKTasnim - 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.
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.
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.