Friday, March 06, 2009

First impressions

A novice writer answered a message I sent her last month and asked me a question. She wanted to know how long a novel should be. She had looked for the answer but couldn't find anything concrete because there is no concrete answer. A novel is as long as it needs to be. There are some conventions, however. About 40-45K words is considered a novella (little novel), 50K words is an average novel and 60-75K is the usual length, while 75K and above are longer novels (super sized). Some publisher list their preferred length.

She had picked out a title for her novel and knew what the story was about but she was stuck. She had been told that the first sentence must be the best and brightest sentence of the novel if it is to have any chance getting out of the slush pile. Yes, a first sentence draws the reader in, but if the rest of the writing isn't just as good editors, publishers and readers will throw the book in the trash. Getting the story down, letting the characters live and breath and take on flesh and blood and bones is more important than not writing because you don't have the perfect, bright and glorious first sentence. It's an excuse for not moving forward.

The best thing about writing a story or a novel or novella is that when you're finished getting it all down on paper you can go back and polish the first sentence. You had better polish the rest of the novel while you're at it. Writing a novel is half the job. The rest of the job is editing, tightening plot points, tying up all the loose ends, clarifying, rewriting and polishing. You don't have to have the perfect first sentence until you send it out the door or out on the cyberwaves.

First impressions are important. People never forget first impressions. They do, however, remember what people do after that and there is always room for change. It is the one constant in the universe. People -- and impressions -- change.

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