Is more and bigger necessarily better?

You know that sensation of being stared at? That if-I-don’t-look-maybe-it’s-not-there prickly feeling? On Friday, as I sat writing near the window in our family room, I was hit was that feeling. Slowly I looked up.

“What the heck is that?” A little critter stood erect on the deck, peering in at me. Now “little” is a relative term. “Little” is the chickadees that flit in for a midday meal at our birdfeeder, compared to the Steller’s Jays who swoop down with a screech to snatch at the sunflower seeds . “Little” is the six inch Douglas squirrels that frequent our bird feeder, compared to… well, compared to this cat-sized critter that continued to stare at me.

We’ve lived here sixteen years, and the intruder turned out to be the first black Eastern Gray Squirrel to drop in for a visit. As soon as he moved, his bushy tail came into sight and his species became obvious, but never had I seen a squirrel anywhere near this size — literally the size of a cat!

Most times if you asked me I’d say the  squirrels around here are cute. I don’t mind that they occasionally bully the birds at the feeder, or chitter anxiously at me if I step out onto the deck during their mealtime. But this… this behemoth… wasn’t cute at all. In fact, I did a bit of research and discovered he is considered an invasive species, and shouldn’t be in our area at all.

Eight Eastern Grey Squirrels were originally imported from New York in 1914 and introduced into Stanley Park, a 1,000 acre park  bordering the city of Vancouver’s downtown core. The assumption was they would remain hemmed into the area because of ocean on three sides of the park and the city on the fourth side. Heh! They shouldn’t have underestimated a rodent’s determination and ingenuity.

~

The writing analogy I gleaned from this is that if a novel is good at 90,000 words it is not necessarily better at 150,000 or more words. One thing I’ve learned over the years is that beginning novelists either struggle to write a story of more than 50,000 words, or  can’t staunch the flow before 225,000. The first draft of my first novel was one of the lengthy ones, and my dear friend and mentor repeatedly urged me to pare it down.

At the time, I thought it was more important to write a good story and let the word count land where it might, but later, as I reluctantly cut away many bits of verbosity I began to realize that I had allowed my muse to run off at the mouth, thoroughly out of literary control! Proven authors might get away with it, but no agent I approached was likely to risk trying to sell anything over 90,000 words written by a debut author.

So, no, I’d say more words and bigger squirrels are not a good thing, at least not in my neck of the woods.

How long are the stories you’ve been writing? If you’re published, do you find successive books get longer, or is there a set word count for your genre or publisher?

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8 thoughts on “Is more and bigger necessarily better?

  1. Carol, I’d have to say that a large “critter” lurking on my patio might give me reason to puase. Especially one that had grown too big for comfort. The writing analogy is perfect. Yes, it is difficult for a debut author to publish a “longish” or over 100K novel. Yes, big is not nec. better, but as your squirrel, some critters get bigger than their species. Some books are longer than the average in their genre. Yes, there are limits in all genres. Publishers set these limits based on reader’s interest. Category romance is like a snack of M&M. tiny morsels. Historic fiction is like a steak dinner with the works. Then there are always exception like your visitor. The story usually guides us … remnds us … when enough is enough and we have said it all. That is the real limit … our own good instincts.

  2. Jenn Hubbard says:

    My second book is longer than my first, but both are on the short side for novels (around 45-60K, that neighborhood). Not sure yet where my third will end up!

    The nice thing, for those who write long drafts, is that’s easier to delete than to add during revision.

  3. staceydaze says:

    I am only published on my blog, but I have worked hard to eliminate extra words. I used to write for pages, so long my hubby couldn’t read it without getting distracted. I realized that I too like shorter blog posts. So, I started cutting things back, especially after Allume’s Better Writer series. I can’t imagine writing that many words though. I’m good now to get 500 words!

  4. That is one scary, big squirrel!! I’ve not had a book published, nor even written a novel, but I do try to keep my blog posts down to a minimal word count. I write long, wordy posts and then cut, cut cut.

  5. Carol says:

    Thanks for all your comments today. I hadn’t applied my analogy beyond the length of a book, but I’m happy to see how it has prompted responses about ‘tight writing’ in general… in blog posts (oh, how wordy I can sometimes get).

    If readers are intensely interested in the topic, a longer, well written article or post won’t deter them, but a big complaint on social media is everyone’s lack of time. I think it’s respectful of them to be considerate… be concise.

  6. Shari Green says:

    I tend to write lean in first drafts, and have to flesh things out in revisions. My last novel grew from about 48k to 60k during revisions (which fortunately is an “appropriate” length for YA ;)).

  7. Laura Best says:

    While my second novel will be longer than my first, I try to aim for a certain count mentally as I’m writing. It doesn’t always work..lol! Length, I believe depends upon the publisher. Mine seems to want their ya books on the short side.

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