Saturday, February 25, 2023

Is Word Count the Best Way to Chart a Novel’s Progress?


Scott D. Parker

Words, pages, or scenes? What is the best way to measure progress when writing a novel?

When I wrote my first novel, I had zero idea about word count so I just stuck with scenes. They were as long as they needed to be.

After I met some fellow writers online, I learned that word count was also a method. In fact, it was often the preferred method publishers used to solicit stories and novels. So I switched and have been using word count as my standard ever since. I still let scenes do what they want.




Writing streaks are a great way to maintain momentum when you are on a project. I use them all the time as well. Since 2022 was a disastrous year of (non) writing for me, I resolved that I would start a brand-new project on New Year’s Day 2023 and keep going everyday until I completed the book.

I have written everyday this year. Yay! The book is coming along nicely, and its serving to remind me about the power and excitement of actually creating a story out of thin air.

During every writing session, I have managed to write 1,000 words or more. That’s kind of a doable benchmark I use that is a nice round number. It has enabled me to reach 64,000 words in the book as of yesterday, Day 55 of the year, so that’s really nice to see. Plus, it’s not as aggressive as the 1,667 words per day you need to write, a la NaNoWriMo, to get a 50,000-word book done in 30 days, but it is usually an achievable threshold, especially when I’m in that flow state.

But is it a good one?

There have been a few days this year when I’m writing a particular scene and I half wonder if I’m writing more words just to reach 1,000 words. I cannot consciously say yes, but the nagging splinter of that idea that I’m just padding the word count remains.

I guess that’s what editing is for.

What about you? How do you measure progress on a book?

Wednesday, February 22, 2023

The Books We Haven't Read (yet)

 My wife's Valentine's Day gift to me this year was to redecorate my office. 

She explained, "You spend like 80% of your time in there, so it should be as nice as possible", and, honestly, that's one of the nicest, most thoughtful gifts I've ever received. So we spent Thursday, nine inches of snow fresh on the ground, homebound, working in my office. Books were pulled off the shelves and the shelves were removed from the walls. Paint was applied, and old paintings and photos and pennants I'd collected over the years were consolidated and placed on a single wall, keeping the space directly above my desk blank, for now. 

It feels different in here. Because of her work, mostly, but also because, after the paint was dry, I worked in to the night, reshelving my books. 

That's always a magical feeling, placing your books back on the shelf, but this time, maybe because it was the first time I'd reshelved my whole collection without the stress of moving the whole goddamn house too, it struck me a little different. It's not that I was more critical of what I was shelving, but rather... distant, maybe. 

I'm sure a therapist would say it has more to do with getting older than a result of the redesigned space, but this time I was keenly aware that a lot of the books I was reshelving were, more than likely, never going to be pulled off again. Not to be read in full, anyway.

But instead of wondering why I am still keeping those books, instead of pondering the inherent power of a collection of books filling a wall, I started to think about the books I haven't read yet. 

Here are a few books from my shelves I have not read yet, and a brief explainer as to why. And when I hope to rectify that. 

Mystic River 

I think it was LOST that put this idea in my head. Desmond and his obsession for Dickens. I can't get into the convoluted nature of LOST here (to be honest, in part, I kind of don't want to remember), but there's a character on the show, Desmond, who has read everything Charles Dickens has ever read except for a single novel. That novel, I think it was A Tale of Two Cities, is the last novel Desmond wants to read before he dies. 

That's Mystic River, for me. 

Lehane was, and continues to be, one of my single greatest influences. His Boston is as much Gothic as it is a criminal Wonderland, his characters are always aching, always searching for something better, his plots are razor sharp, and his prose is immaculate. And if what everyone says is true, Mystic River is his masterpiece. I know I'll read it eventually, but I'm in no rush. Saving something for close to the end can only make it sweeter, right? I have no idea when I'll read this one, but just knowing it's out there is powerful, I think. Eventually, when the time is right. Maybe when I'm close to the end. 

Lonesome Dove 

Well, first, it's so goddamn long. Just looking at that book on my shelf, I can feel the weight of commitment grabbing my shoulders. But I know it's good. It has to be. And (check my other blogs in you don't believe me) I've had Cormac McCarthy on the brain for years and years and years now. Someday, it's going to be incredibly pleasant to get a different picture of the West in my head; something to replace The Kid and the Judge and the barren, baking, hellscape of the desert. And if that only lasts while I'm reading the book? That's fine. It'll still take quite a while. I'm hoping I can read this one this ear. 

What about you? Do you have any books you can't wait to read, but you're holding off, waiting for that special time? If so, tell me about them below, or reach out on Twitter @pauljgarth 


Tuesday, February 21, 2023

Death at an Old Mansion

A few months ago I wrote here about the excellent Japanese mystery novel, The Honjin Murders, published in 1946 by Seishi Yokomizo.  It's a classic honkaku mystery, defined by Japanese crime author Saburo Koga as "a detective story that values entertainment derived from pure logical reasoning", usually, if not always, a mystery of the locked-room or impossible variety.  I've really been into reading these Japanese books for a couple years now, but I didn't find out till recently that there's been a movie adaptation of The Honjin Murders. It's called Death at an Old Mansion and came out in 1975, directed by Yoichi Takabayashi.

In brief, the plot revolves around the deaths of a bride and groom on the night the two wed. Both are found bloodied, stabbed by a sword, inside a locked room. The sword is found outside the room, however, and on a wall inside the room is found the bloodied handprint of a three-fingered person. Amateur detective Kosuke Kindaichi, working with the local police inspector, tackles the case, and the investigation proceeds in the small town in rural Japan where the deaths occurred.

The Wikipedia description of the film says it's a horror film, but this is not accurate.  Death at an Old Mansion is a pure mystery, like the book, presenting a puzzle and a collection of suspects and an ingenious, complicated solution. What the movie does do, perhaps earning it the appellation of "horror film", is emphasize the book's macabre aspects quite a bit, while downplaying some of its humor.  The movie is less lighthearted, less playful, than the book, which serves at once as a superb mystery and a commentary on mystery stories.  One note: the brother of the dead groom, a  member of the eccentric family Kindaichi is probing with questions, is in the movie like in the book a detective fiction aficionado, and this makes for lively conversations in the film about the difference between crime in "real life" and in detective stories.   

I'm not sure why this film, at least in the US, is a bit obscure, but I'd say that for those who feel they've seen all the good traditional mystery story films there are to see, who are enjoying the current small resurgence of classic-style whodunnits on film, this is a film that would probably be up your alley.

And it's available to see on You Tube if you look for it, with subtitles, in a lovely print.