Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Why You Need To Pay Your Characters Well

The other day, I was reading about indie publishing. And someone with knowledge (how did they get to be the prognosticators—I didn’t vote for them) pronounced that to be a successful indie author you had to be publishing more than one book a year.

I swallowed. My heart went cold. More than one book a year. How does anyone do that? Are they chained to their computer? Do they run a tape recorder next to their beds and mutter plot and dialogue as they dream? Maybe they’ve disconnected themselves from Facebook, email, Twitter, and Google. (Of course, without Google how can you spend an hour researching ancient enameling procedures for a scene which will probably be cut from the book. But, hey, I’m an expert on enamel.)

Okay, so maybe other writers spend less time Googling random facts. But it doesn’t account for that much time. I have friends who tell me that they’ve had a good week writing. And I find out they’ve written 20,000 words. My lip quivers. I ignore it and I put on the supportive friend face. But my heart says, “20,000?!?” A good week for me is 5,000. (Before you feel too sorry for me, I write very sparely and can usually resist plot bunnies, so I rarely need to delete more than a couple hundred words from a first draft. Whereas, my friends will often say, “I cut 20k words from my book today.”)

Setting aside my excuses of distilled plotting, how come they can get so many words? Are their characters eager minions lined up to do their authors’ bidding? Mine are as surly as two year olds. And getting them together to do their work is like….herding cats.

Here’s what I think is really going on. (Courtesy of Jasper Fforde. You really should read his books.) I believe Fforde’s theory that characters are real people who live in an alternative universe. Their jobs are to people our books. I suspect that the reason my characters are more surly than other writers’ characters is because I don’t pay them very well. They’re hoping that if they’re difficult, I’ll fire them and they can get jobs elsewhere…Maybe their already putting out resumes. Grrr. If you’re looking for characters, do not hire Henry Mark Montgomery. He’s a total slacker who shows up for work late, complains about unsafe working conditions (okay, the Colors of Time are dangerous, but plot is all about risk), drinks when his parents aren’t looking, and complains that his leading lady is too tall. And don’t get me started on Peter—he’s casting hexes on the text. No wonder I can’t get hefty word counts. Maybe I need to bring in an enforcer. I’ve heard Voldemort is looking for a new job. Of course, he’s way outside my budget.

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  1. More than one a year? That is a terrifying thought.

    For all my tendencies toward meandering, I do tend to be a sparse first draft writer, too. Most of my edits afterward have to do with adding in more details - necessary bits and pieces I completely skipped the first time around. Glad to know I'm not the only one who writes like this!

  2. I feel you about the crazy word output! I'm a slow writer, so I'm constantly intimidated by hearing people's WIP progress. It's like they're always spewing wordage!

    Maybe the key is not to treat your characters as employees but more like your unruly subjects. Subjugate them! (Although this is easier said than done, and also I think I'm in this mindset because I saw the Avengers again last night...)

    P.S. So curious about Insurgent after your comment! Plan to get to it soon - hopefully this weekend. You'll hear our thoughts on it, undoubtedly. Haha.

  3. The thought of cutting words by the thousands like that makes me write more slowly, more deliberately. I have no problem writing something that might get cut, but a 10-20k word detour just ain't my thang.

    Nice post.

  4. I have a friend who churns out first drafts and revisions in what feels like a week. Amazes me.

    I couldn't write a book a year. : /

  5. Lol! Cute idea. Can I pay them with Monopoly money?

    I have heard the same though: a book a year or better. I think it isn't just indie publishers either. However, I think at that point the authors are working full time on writing? I hope!

  6. Ah, now there's a theory. I'll have to start thinking about how to bribe my characters into sticking around for longer . . . :)

  7. Aha! I knew it! Can I issue them promissory notes based on future royalties? ;-)