Thursday, June 30, 2011

Questions for the Agent: Length

From when I was gone, I asked you, the lovely reader, to ask me questions and/or suggestions for future blog posts. I'm back. I'm (mostly) caught up with work. And now I'm answering your questions in segments. And asking for more questions. Here's the time to find out all you can about the agent (remember most everything is subjective and does not apply to all agents).

I often say that I like longer books to shorter ones. What do I mean by this? Well, that's a good question. Let's see if I can answer it.

First, compare a literary novel to a children's chapter book. What are the differences? Besides theme and the age of the characters, you have multiple subplots in a literary novel. Relationships and plot points are given more page time and dug deeper into.

Let's compare movies and TV series (think of a TV series as a very, very long movie, limited to one season, multiple seasons would be like multiple books). A regular length movie might have time for a couple subplots, but mainly it's going to focus on the struggles and tribulations of the main character. A TV series, however, can concentrate on several subplots because it gives you time to learn each character and keep track of what's going on. People go from having one or two main problems, to several. You learn about what they love, things in their past, how they interact in several different situations. You become invested.

Let's see if I can clarify it anymore. When I read a book, I want to be involved. I don't want to be in and out of a situation too quickly: beginning, middle stuff happens, conclusion. I want beginning, side trip, oooh intrigue, middle stuff happens, more middle stuff happens, oh didn't see that coming, wait she did what, I think the end is coming, oh my gosh, end.

The only way you can really know, is by reading. Go read. Go read books that hover around or under 60,000 words, then go read a book that clocks in more than 100,000 words. Try to stick with single person POV (otherwise you're in something completely different). Or read only third person POV. Then compare the POVs as well.

I reviewed Hunger, about a girl who becomes one of the riders of the apocalypse, Famine, and she happens to be anorexic. It's a fantastic story. You can map the plot something like this: introduction to characters, first doorway (embarks on the journey), about three things happen to teach her about life and herself, second doorway (point of no return), conclusion. If this story had been expanded, she would have traveled away from home for more than a few hours at a time, she would have met new friends, discovered even more about herself, we would have seen her settle into her new role, maybe balance her life. I'm not saying the book should have done it. I loved it as it was. But I like to become absorbed in books and be taken on a long journey.

Look at Hunger Games. Katniss goes through the first doorway (which launches her into the story from which she cannot return, much like when Luke's aunt and uncle die in Star Wars, launching him into a journey he cannot return from), then from there she meets a myriad of people and gets put to the test so many times we know everything about her by the end, who she was and who she becomes, then we get to see the consequences of her actions (second doorway) and how people react to her.

Hopefully that answers the question of what I mean by "longer books." Also, remember that it isn't just word length that matters. It's the depth and complexity of characters.

Happy reading!


Melodie Wright said...

Hi Vickie:
I agree and share with your longer-is-better taste. As a reader and depending on the genre, I like to ease into the book's world. My question is how to do this in five pages, or 250 words, without generating too many questions from the reader. In your opinion, what are the first questions a writer should answer in the first 250 words? Thanks!

Stephsco said...

Thanks for the Star Wars spoiler... ;) j/k

That's a good point about focusing less on word count and more about story progression and depth of the character's experiences.

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