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Posts Tagged ‘Arthur C. Clarke’

I recently, in the course of another discussion, asked parenthetically how authors can estimate their final word counts tens of thousands of words ahead (or even when they’re starting a story)? I guess the easy answer is that if you know roughly how much more plot you’ve got to shovel in, and you’ve done this long enough, you can figure out vaguely how many more words you’re going to need. And hey, it’s not like anybody’s keeping score. Like every other aspect of the writing process, it’s just you.

But that led me to a bigger question: How do you write a novel?

I don’t mean physically, and I don’t even mean by plotting v. pantsing. I mean–how are some people able to create stories that are tens (let alone hundreds) of thousands of words long? And even more to the point, how am I able to do that?

Let’s face it, big numbers usually means math, and I suck at math. I started having trouble when they introduced long division, and it hasn’t gotten any easier since. Any equation with more than one variable is a struggle, and taking calculus in college is, to this day, one of my greatest regrets. (And this is with a roommate studying engineering, and friends who majored in chemistry, astronomy, and physics.)

I understand that mathematics is a language, one that I don’t speak. At all. And yet. If you were to ask my science buddies (up to and including Ph.D.s) to write a 4000-word short story, their brains would fizzle like an android in a logic contest with Captain Kirk. I went to school with people who discovered planets, but write a short story? That ain’t happening.*

And yet I, who couldn’t master the first class needed to discover planets, can make them up wholesale. I can create worlds out of nothing. I created an entire future of the Earth from my own head. Nothing I create existed before I wrote it down, and I am almost 50,000 words into my latest creation. Think about that. Fifty thousand words.

And yet, I have no idea how it’s done. People ask, “Where do you get your ideas?” Like that’s the hard part. Ideas? I’ve got lots of ideas. Except how to stretch most of them into a story. Because I have no idea how that’s done. I do it; I’ve done it almost all my life, but I haven’t a clue how. And still, here I am, chugging away at 1500 words a day. Which is really mystifying, because a year ago I would have been satisfied with 500 words a day, 1000 on a real hot streak.

In the end, of course, some people are good at one thing, others another. This seems to be what I’m good at. But I grew up wanting to be a scientist, and that inner scientist isn’t going to rest until he figures out this problem.

Maybe if I keep at it, someday I’ll write a story that explains it all. Kind of like the programmers in “The Nine Billion Names of God.” I just hope it doesn’t end up destroying the universe.

 

*Yes, I know there are scientists who are also writers. I’m acquainted some of them. They require no explanation; they’re simply geniuses.

#SFWApro

 

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