Monday, May 14, 2012

The Writer Will Take Your Questions Now (#165) -- Writing to Length

How is plotting different when you're already given a length for 
an arc and you must either (a) fill it or (b) cut to fit it?

Sometimes I need these.
For me, I tend to write two ways, which I'll call (1) free-form and (2) to a required length.

When I write free-form, I just start with a general idea and have a rough idea of the length the story may end up. This is usually reserved for my mid-length prose short stories somewhere between 2k and 5k words. When I write this way, I don't plot at all. It all starts in my head and just bleeds out on the to word processor. That's a very liberating way to create.

But more often than not, nowadays, my writing tends to be the second option. I'm given a specific length to write. For example, most of my new pulp tales have to be either 10k or 15k words. That's not "no more than" -- that's as close to exact as I can get it, give or take a hundred words.

For comic book scripts, I'm given the number of issues and the number of pages in the comic book. Typically that's 22 pages per issue, and between 3-6 issues for a single story. And let me tell you, those are some specific page breakdowns to get a handle on. If not, you're comic writing career will stall out quickly.

And sometimes I have to use this.
So, how do I do that? I have learned the fine art of full plotting. That means I write out not just the general beats of my plots, but also bits of important dialogue and how each scene leads into the next. My plots have become, in essence, the equivalent of a movie treatment for my stories. Then I break each scene down in to the number of pages (or words) needed to get it done, and then hope the thing balances out in the end. When it doesn't, since I don't have the luxury of additional (or fewer pages), I have to rework the plots, either beefing up core scenes, making lesser scenes more important, or even harder, cutting stuff to make the story fit.

I wish it were as easy as just cutting ten percent from each scene, but I've found that kills the theme and plot and well, story, of the tales.

That's just my way of doing it. Your mileage may differ.