So shoot me for false advertising, but I have a dilemma. I shared with you last week in A Tribute to Editors that I have received my manuscript to At The Walls Of Galbrieth back from my editor with lots of cuts and corrections. As I worked my way through, accepting 90% of the changes suggested, I realized that my word count was dropping drastically.
I am about 80% through the novel, which began at 96,000 words and is now down to about 85,000.
Epic fantasy novels are thick tombs, offering the promise to get lost in a mythical world for a month or so. It is not a novel that you can finish in a weekend (unless your weekend is very empty and you are a fast reader).
Even Young Adult books make good doorstops. The Christopher Paolinis’ of this world have proved that teenagers will stick with a long story if it is compelling enough.
So my first question is: Is there a minimum length? When I was shopping the Wycaan Master series, there were publishers who stipulated a word range, often 100,00+. It might be that they expected their editors to attack it with a scalpel, much as my editor did.
My second question regards world building, something we have touched on before at elfwriter. A lot of the scenery description has been edited out. The editor, like many in the writing world, believes that you shouldn’t reveal everything: about a person, room, scenery etc., but allow the reader to create their own image.
Certainly, anyone who has read a book after watching the movie (or the other way around) can appreciate this.
Tolkien, the master, spent pages describing the forests and the trees. Many of us loved this while others skipped these long descriptions. I wonder whether a young, undiscovered Tolkien would (and please pardon the expression) suffer the long red, sharpie lines through these sections of his work (or the Track Changes equivalent – but that’s not how I think of the old professor).
There is a middle ground. My editor has challenged me to integrate the descriptions within an action scene or as a pivot for a character’s self-reflection. This is a great point and I plan to experiment with this in the future. Do you know of any writers who do a good job of integrating description into the flow of the plot or character development, without it feeling like a ‘description-dump’?
So two questions here: Does size matter? How much description is allowed?
As always, I appreciate your feedback and guidance.
Alon Shalev is the author of The Accidental Activist and A Gardener’s Tale. He has written three epic fantasy novels and the first, which reached the Quarter Finals of the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award 2012, is due out in January 2013 by Tourmaline Press. More on Alon Shalev at http://www.alonshalev.com and on Twitter (@elfwriter).