Chronicling The Craft: 20,000 Words

Textbooks + Statistics = Back To School?

Chapters In Progress: 5

Chapters Completed: 4

The writing vacation was a huge success! Instead of taking almost 2 months to reach the next milestone (as it did last time), it took less than one week to go from 15,000 words to 20,000 (or 21,000+, to be accurate). Honestly, it felt more like shooting from one benchmark to the next, because of the shorter span of time. I guess that’s what happens when you a) plan to spend a large amount of time concentrating on your work-in-progress, and b) are “in the flow” during each sit-down. And even though I purposely set no concrete goals for this week, I can’t explain how proud and excited I am with what I accomplished in a few days. 

Here are the chapters I focused on this week:

  • Chapter 2 is done! It begins where Chapter 1 leaves off and shows the main protagonist and her three friends searching for the race who’s responsible for the strange hunting trap. (See “Chronicling The Craft: 15,000 Words” for a brief description of Chapter 1.) It also builds on the protagonist’s resentment and desire for vengeance, features some magic, and is intended to add suspense to the story. I say “intended” only because I won’t know if I’ve hit that mark until I let other people read the finished draft.
  • I also began and finished Chapter 4. (Woo hoo!) This chapter faced a similar “split decision” as my original Chapter 1: I separated it into two chapters because I realized I was trying to cram too much into one. So, this completed Chapter 4 is roughly the first half of my original Chapter 4. Here, the protagonist’s pre-existing relationships with her friends are further established, and an important event in their race’s culture presents the protagonist with her first opportunity to exact her revenge.
  • The “split decision” mentioned above means that Chapter 5, which is about 90% complete at this time, is roughly the second half of my original Chapter 4. In hindsight, this needed to be its own chapter. It requires me to strike a delicate balance between action, emotion, and dialogue. So far, I think I’m doing that, but like I said earlier I won’t know for sure until the novel is ready for alpha readers. But this has been a fun chapter to write so far!

My “textbooks” from the past week.

One habit I created for myself this week was to use books I’ve read as “textbooks.” By this, I mean that I’m observing and noting writing techniques, not copying what published authors have already done. Here’s an example: Parts of Chapter 4 involve describing a massive structure where an event takes place as well as the crowd inside of the venue. As I was writing the chapter, I wanted to know how published authors approached similar events. How much time did they spend describing it all? What details did they point out to set the scene and convey the desired emotions? So I pulled out a few books and re-read specific scenes of interest, namely the bear pit scene in George R.R. Martin’s A Storm of Swords, Fire’s arrival in King’s City in Kristin Cashore’s Fire, and a couple of pre-Game crowd scenes at the Capital in Suzanne Collins’ The Hunger Games. After reading these scenes, I noted them for future reference by placing Post-It flags on the respective pages. Then I applied what I had noticed to my vision for Chapter 4 and went back to work.

I did the same with Chapter 5 as well, but for a different reason. I knew I would need some “help” with writing action scenes, especially because it’s been a few years since I last wrote an action scene. So, again, I opened a couple books (A Storm of Swords again, and Lioness Rampant by Tamora Pierce) that feature strong, memorable action scenes and absorbed what was there before returning to my own work. Lioness Rampant was particularly helpful; Pierce is a master of writing action in medieval / high fantasy. Her crisp sentences and strong verbs create the tension needed for such scenes and paint vivid pictures of combat and swordfights in your mind.

In hindsight, I’m glad I finally took the initiative to use my book collection as “textbooks.” This way, I can mark specific scenes and return to them for “guidance” as needed. I’d been meaning to do this for a while; I think I’d just been lazy (or focused?) to stop being a writer and start being a student again for a few minutes.

Also, while working on this novel, I’ve been keeping a Writing Statistics Tracking Sheet. At the end of each novel-writing session, I use a Microsoft Excel spreadsheet to log in my progress from a statistical standpoint. The tracking sheet looks something like this. (Click the image to see a larger version.)

Writing Stats Tracking 090513-page-001

Page 1 of my writing stats tracking sheet as of September 5, 2013.

As you can see, I track the increase in word count, the number of hours I spend each session, and the number of words per hour for that session. There are more columns to this tracking sheet (which didn’t fit in a single image) that track the number of chapters in progress / completed / not started and which ones in each category. Also, at the bottom of the image, you can see two more numbers: the total hours spent on the novel since I began the tracking sheet, and the words-per-hour overall average. This table-format Excel sheet is fairly easy to set up (although some of the math needs to be done by calculator and then plugged in – bah, Microsoft!), and can be used as an organizational tool as well as a progress snapshot. And we writers need to keep ourselves organized, right?

So, that’s where things stand now, and I’m incredibly happy with the results. Equally as important, I made this much progress in one week without isolating myself. This vacation has been a healthy mix of writing, normal household activities, and social events. So, I can look back on my time-off and be grateful that I didn’t turn into a hermit! Of course, with my vacation ending soon, the novel-writing pace will slow down considerably. That’s fine, though. I’ll need the extra time to finish my write-up about the protagonist’s race – and decide what to share with you for the next edition of Chronicling The Craft. Remember: I promised a big reveal when I reach 25,000 words! 😉

How are your works-in-progress coming along? Do you keep track of your novel-writing statistics? And, do you use novels or reference books as part of your “studies” as you write? If your answer to either is “yes,” how?

Next Chronicle: When I reach 25,000 words

Until Then: In a few days, I’ll announce an open mic night appearance I’m planning for the end of September! Also, I’m almost finished with my review of Hydria’s Freakshow for Sonic Cathedral. Expect that to go online in the next couple weeks.

10 thoughts on “Chronicling The Craft: 20,000 Words

  1. Glad to see the vacation went well! I used a spreadsheet early on with my WIP, but lost track about twenty days in and steamed on ahead regardless. I kinda wish I kept up with it, but it seems a little late to do anything about that now.

    I must say that this book of yours sounds intriguing. If I may ask: how many novels have you worked on before this one? You really seem to know what you’re doing when it comes to plotting and pacing and so on; a lot more than I do, at any rate.

    Looking forward to the big reveal 🙂

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    • Thanks! I still haven’t figured out how much to reveal about my protagonist’s race yet. The full version keeps getting longer; it’s about 12 pages now. So I’ll have to pick and choose what information I should share. Anything in particular you’d like to learn?

      *blushes* Um… I started writing one novel when I was 12 or 13 but gave up. I succeeded the second time; it took about 2 years off and on, and was finished about 6 years ago. Which makes this one my third try at novel-writing. So, I’m by no means an expert! All I can say is that I have a pretty clear idea of the novel’s plot and events, with some fuzzy spots here are there.

      About the spreadsheet: It’s fun to have, but much less important than the actual writing. As long as you’re “full steam ahead” on the story side (which I know you are, based on what I’ve read at your blog), the statistics are only statistics in the end. And you are – so keep up the good work!

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      • 12 pages, eh? Yeah, that’s probably a little big for a single post :P. It’s also a sign that there’s a lot to them, though, which can only be a good thing. It would be neat to hear a bit about their magic system having read about your 1st chapter. Other than that, it’s difficult to think where to start.

        Here’s a random question that suddenly sprung to mind: what kind of belief do they follow? Do they all follow one religion, or do they have several?

        Congrats on finishing a whole novel :). Haven’t yet managed that, myself. Out of interest, how much have your ideas for the latest project changed since you first started to write the story? My own outline seems to be changing constantly.

        Keep up the good work on your end, too!

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      • *lol* Thanks! I think it’s important that they be as complete of a “species” or “culture” as possible. That way, it will seem as though they’ve been around for centuries. I should have the magic system completely thought out by then, so I’ll do my best to include it. 😉

        I’m still working on their belief system. The way it’s coming together, they’re more of a spiritual race than religious. I don’t see them following specific gods or deities, but they have strong beliefs relating to nature, magic, the afterlife, values, etc. And yes, they will have a single one for the whole race, though.

        My ideas haven’t changed an awful lot. I’ve had a pretty clear idea of the plot and its events, but some spots are still fuzzy. The only things that have changed so far are certain notable details and technique-related… things. I don’t know what other word to use there. *lol*

        It sounds like you’ve tried to write novels before, and the one you’re blogging about at your site is your latest try. Is that true? How many have you tried to write in the past?

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      • Agreed: it’s really important to flesh out your cultures as much as you can when doing this sort of thing. My own ones are still looking rather rough around the edges, though I’m hoping they’ll come together some more as I keep writing.

        Liking the sound of that belief system: spiritual rather than religious is always a good place to start in my view :). How’s that coming along?

        By technique-related, do you mean things relating to your writing style or things related to the plot itself? Like I said before, my own ideas seem to be changing all the time. I managed to introduce a new character out of nowhere a couple of days ago. Not sure what that’ll mean for my storyline, but it ought to be fun to work out.

        I’m actually on my sixth attempt at a novel, but it’s also the third time I’ve tried to write the particular story I’m working on. I have a lot of faith in the basic ideas behind the story; it’s just a question of when I’ll be good enough to properly do them justice :D.

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  2. Wow. I just realized I haven’t your last question. Sorry about that!

    Of course, now that I’m trying to think of what I meant by “technique-related” when I originally responded, I can’t recall what I meant by that. Nothing has changed much since I first outlined the story, though. Wait – that’s not true. I recently talked to a friend about the magic system of the protagonist’s race, and realized some flaws that need to be addressed. The good thing is, those corrections clarify things rather than negatively impact the story.

    The belief system seems to be rooted in the race’s relationship with nature, the afterlife, and their cultural values. They also have an interesting attitude toward their magic, which I’ll share in another Chronicle at some point.

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  3. Pingback: Chronicling The Craft: 25,000 Words | Sara Letourneau's Official Website & Blog

  4. Pingback: Chronicling The Craft: 70,000 Words | Sara Letourneau's Official Website & Blog

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