You Write the Next Great American Novel: Breaking Down a Novel

July 29, 2015

This is typically how this conversation goes:

Person #1: What do you for a living?

Me: I’m a writer.

Person #1 applying fake polite smile of understanding: Oh, that’s nice.

Person #2 upon sensing Person #1’s incredulity: No, really, she’s written like six books or something.

Person #1 assumes expression of complete shock.

Person #1’s reaction used to bother me.  I have a hard enough time believing that I’m contributing to society when I spend my days in yoga pants, snuggling with two Basset hounds as I make up stories.  I do not need someone’s instant rejection of my chosen career as a serious pursuit to help bring me down any further.

But then I finally understood that it wasn’t a person’s instant rejection of writing as a career; it was the belief that a normal everyday person could not possibly write a 90,000 word novel.

I use Scrivener to keep the parts of my novel in order.
I use Scrivener to keep the parts of my novel in order.

Having completed my ninth manuscript this year, this belief dumbfounded me.  I write 90,000 word novels all the time, I want to say, but it sounds weird.  And writers are weird enough, so I didn’t want to add to that.

So here’s the thing: anyone (ANYONE!) can write a 90,000 word novel.

It’s much like eating an elephant: you need to take one bite at a time.

The key to starting a book, writing a book, and finishing a book is to NOT remember that it’s a 90,000 word novel.

When you sit down to write, have a game plan.  Say to yourself: I will finish this scene.  Or: I need to finish his reaction to what the antagonist just said.

When you begin to refine your view, the 90,000 word novel is not so unbelievable.

Here’s how I break it down:

90,000 word novel = 18 chapters of 5,000 words each = 54 scenes of approximately 1700 words each

1700 words.

When I sit down to write, that’s my target.  1700 measly little words.  That’s it.

When you break down a novel into the parts of which it’s made, you no longer see the 90,000 words.  You see 1700 words.  1700 words is manageable, right?

Now it’s your turn.  What do the parts of your novel look like?

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