So, I was over on Reddit, you like I often am, and found this question. And answered it, like I do. However, the answer I initially gave was a simple generic answer. If you want to read my original answer unaltered, simply click on Reddit's embed feature links which Reddit provides for webmasters to be able to post their answers on their websites, while linking back to the original thread on Reddit (if you didn't know Reddit offered and encouraged the use of this feature, look for it in the "share" features underneath every post, comment, and reply on Reddit).
I am answering random questions today about world building, over on Reddit and decided to take my answers from there and expand upon them even further over here. So that's what this page is. Me rambling on about various aspects of world building techniques I use when writing the Quaraun series. The questions I am answering are embedded here. Clicking the link in the embedded question will take you to the original Reddit page where you can see the original answer along with other people's answers. If you wish to comment, you can do so on the Reddit page where a place to do so is provided.
In any case, as with all of my Reddit answers found on my site here, my original post on Reddit is much shorter then the article here.
When you are just starting out, aim for 750 words a day, written over a period on 3 to 4 writing sessions a day. So, around 200 words per sitting.
>>So how do I sit down, and write till the wee hours in the morning, typing up 10-20 pages at a time like a true novelist?
No beginning writer is going to do this without fast finding themselves in the hospital, with carpal tunnel, pulled wrist muscles, blood clots in fingers, knuckle cramps, water retention at the joints, strains, sprains, and other such things, most of which require surgery to fix and will have your hands in casts for 12 weeks.
Writing is like playing sports. Because it uses a lot of muscles, it requires warm up exercises. Stress balls are good for this.
Also, like sports, never do it for extended periods. Write for no more than 45 minutes max. Then take a minimum 15 minute break.
In addition to hand, wrist, and finger injuries, you also need to be aware of leg, back, and neck issues, caused from extended sitting for too long to a time. Common problems writers are faced with include leg cramps, belly bulge, stiff neck, varicose veins, pinched nerves, slipped discs. All of which are caused by sitting and not moving. Thus every 45 minutes, get up and walk. Do a quick yoga session. Sit ups. Chin ups. Stair stretches. Chair Squats. Walk your dog around the block. Weed your garden. Walk down your driveway and get your mail. Something. Anything. Just get your blood circulating.
Drink A LOT of water. This is VERY, VERY, VERY important. If you are dehydrated, you'll pull the muscles out of your fingers. They will snap in half, right off the bone, require surgery to reattach, and your fingers will be in little funny looking casts for 6 damn months. Been there, done that. Never again. If you want to do high output typing, drink no less then one gallon of water a day. More is better.
I have found that it is best, to buy a 12 pack case of 24oz bottled water. And every hour, drink one. All of it. Then the next day, refill them all, and every hour, drink another one. That's 288oz of water a day. You need to keep your finger muscles "lubricated" so to speak, by making sure that your blood flow is circulating properly. Thus the getting up every 45 minutes, to walk around for 15 minutes AND drinking 24oz of water while you are up waking around.
Know that speed typing takes time and practice and you not going to learn it overnight. The average writer should strive for 35 to 50 words a minute. Programs like Dr. Wicked's Write or Die (free) will help you increase your typing speed.
If you really want to get into high speed typing, then you want to find a local college that offers secretary training courses and take a semester long class in secretarial typing. You'll be using old school typewriters, not computers, for a class like this. So no way to fix your mistakes, thus you need to have very good spelling and grammar prior to taking such a course. You will be required to pass a live timed test at the end the semester - to graduate you will need to type at a speed of 175 words per minute with at least 80% accuracy. The bulk of the course, is you doing half hour of hand exercises, followed by half hour of typing practice - for 4 hours, 3 days a week, for 90 days of classes. You'll want to keep a lot of flexi-ice packs in your freezer, because you are going to need them. Your wrists are going to HURT. You'll be expected to be doing hand exercises and 4 hours of typing practice daily outside of class as well. Like grinding in a video game, this is probably the most boring, grueling class you could ever think to sign up for.
People often look at me flying through NaNoWriMo zipping past 500,000 words in 30 days, and then try to do it as well.
Think of it like trying out for the Olympics. It's not something you jump into and do without training. A LOT of training. YEARS of training.
I'm trained for this.
I took Basic Secretarial Typing, and Advanced Secretarial Typing 1, 2, and 3. I have 4 semesters of training in this type of high speed, long term typing.
That's how ggot an average daily speed of 91 words a minute, almost 5,000 words an hour. Most days I type around 17,000 words a day, because I don't just sit and type the full 8 hours I'm working. In fact I spend a lot more hours a day editing, then I do full stream typing. Keeping in mind, I type with one hand. I had a stroke years ago, my left hand is basically useless. But I didn't always do this. I trained for it. A lot of years of classes and very hard training went into my reaching this point. Also remember, I published my first book 40 years ago, in 1978. I'm not new to this. When I started out I struggled to reach 500 words a day. 3 years after publishing my first novel, I still struggled to reach 700 words a day. It took me a long time and a lot of determined persistence to get where I am.
You can do it, yes. But don't plan on it happening overnight. Plan on training for years and years and years, seeing slow improvement over time. Take it slow and steady. Don't push yourself too fast. You have to build up your muscle strength. Hand muscles are fairly weak compared to the rest of your muscles. It takes them a lot of time to build up the strength for this kind of typing.
I've also have hand surgery 4 times in the past 5 years, have pulled my wrist muscles twice in each arm, in the past 7 years. Frequently have to go in for MRIs to check my bones for fractures. I have to wear wrist braces, most every day of my life, to support my muscles. You wrist muscles are not made for this type of output. Know that the authors who are putting out a lot of work fast, are also dealing with a lot of medical side effects caused by the high level of physical strain they put on their hands, wrists, and forearms.
If you plan to be publishing 4 or 5 novels a year, then definitely seek out the training, but if you only plan to write maybe 1 novel this year, perhaps another novel 5 years from now, don't.
Authors typing up 10-20 pages at a time are NOT beginners, not even close, they are not even intermediates. They are people with very advanced training, years of practice, and are doing this as a full time job, pumping out novels monthly. High output authors are not the norm. Very few writers actually do this. Average authors take 2 years per novels and there's nothing wrong with that.
Do not try to push yourself into high speed, high output writing, until you've done the research to find out the type of training needed to reach that style output. Also check with your doctor before attempting this so of thing, if you do decide to aim for it, because if you have any kind of muscle or blood disorder (like I do - I have Chronic Tendonitis and Parkinson's) you'll need extra training in how to work around this sort of thing.
Don't be fooled by the glamour of being a novelist. Many have a false perception of what a career author's life is like. Few are prepared for the amount of work needed to reach the "dream" they assume novel writing to be.
If you have a story, just write it at your own pace, between work and school and family. If it takes one year, two years, even ten years to finish it, that's perfectly all right.
The only time you want to focus on speed and hgh output, is if you are planning on novel writing as a career, which means you'll also plan to be publishing no fewer then 4 novels a year for the rest of you life. Not many people have that many novels in them. If you think you want to make this a career... then go to college, take secretary typing courses, English Literature courses, Creative Writing courses, Business Ownership courses,and Entrepreneurship courses. Then look into getting into personal training with a focus on strengthening your hand and wrist muscles. You'll want strong wrist muscles that can handle this type of high strain work.
>>>Is the first act really 20% of the novel?
Uhm... I think the bigger question is do novels even have acts?
The answer is: NO.
In 50+ years of writing and having published in that time: 138 novels, 30 non-fiction books, 2,000+ short stories, a dozen plays, a few comic book scripts for Disney's Uncle Scrooge and Donald Duck comics, a few dozen novellas, and 10,000+ non-fiction articles... let me say this:
I have never used a plot.
I have never written an act.
I've have never taken time to "lay out setting" or "build the world" or "establish lore" or "introduce characters" or any other form of "used the first chapters to lay groundwork".
I've never written a prologue.
Before joining this subreddit I had never heard the words protagonist or antagonist before. I had to Google to find out what they were, even though I have written and published more novels than the average person will ever read in their lifetime.
I never went to school. I'm a female in Gypsy Culture. School was not allowed. Women being able to read and write is seen as a sin. To this day, I still can't do math, I don't know how to count, I can't tell time, I can't read clocks or calendars or count money. I taught myself to read and write with a copy of Treasure Island, a Webster Dictionary, a King James Bible, and a 99 volume Funk & Wagner Encyclopaedia - I took every sentence of every one of them, and wrote them down in notebooks. And because this...
...I also have never studied "how to write" or "how to read" or "how to analyse books for hidden meanings/themes/morals"... I read for one reason and one reason only: to travel with the main character. I want the main character to be my best friend and go with them, where they go.
All an author should really be focusing on: the character the reader will be travelling with and the story the character will share with the reader.
Authors used to be storytellers.
Authors used to have a story to tell and told it.
Why does no author today, ever think to tell a story any more?
Character and story are WHY readers read.
Since 1994, I can't find a book, written that way. Books published before 1994, the author put story and character first. They had to. Save the Cat had not yet been written, so they didn't know they were "supposed" to write in acts and plots and story arcs and character arches and beats. Before 1994 no author used those things to write because those things did not yet exist.
Before 1994, authors had a character to send on an adventure. A character with a story to tell.
I have never written a chapter.
Let me repeat that...
I have never written a chapter - yes, all my novels go straight through beginning to end without a single chapter. Why? Because no author in their right mind would ever think to write in chapters or chapter breaks. That is not how novels were written for the 300 year history of novel writing. Chapters were an invention of the 1960s and did not exist in novels before, and even than were rarely seen prior to the 1980s, when the publishing industry decided it was easier to publish books in 10 part segments. The PUBLISHER NOT the author would arbitrarily divide the book into 10 parts, taking the total number of pages and dividing it by 10. So, a 222 page novel would end up with 10 chapters of 22 pages each.
In response to this authors in the 1990s started to think in terms of chapters, and writing their books in parts... something that had NEVER been done by authors before... not once in the 300+ year history of the novel.
A side shoot of this, was the idea of writing a novel the same way as writing a stage play: in acts.
This is why the great classics from 1840 to 1950 are great classics and why 99.9% of everything published after 1994 is absolute shit garbage craptastic junk, that no one likes to read.
Authors used to be storytellers.
Authors used to have a story to tell and told it.
Why does no author today, ever think to tell a story any more?
No one cares about chapters. No one cares about acts. No one cares about arcs.
When was the last time you heard a person say:
"Chapter 5 of Lady of the Lake was the best chapter I ever read of any book ever!"
"The story arch on Life of Dreams is the best story arc ever written?"
readers don't talk like that. They talk like this:
"Old Blind Pue is the best damn pirate I ever read!"
"Jim's story was amazing. I had so much fun reading that novel."
Readers think in terms of characters and story.
So that all an author should really be focusing on: the character the reader will be travelling with and the story the character will share with the reader.
When you get right down to it everything else is pointless.
Authors never thought about chapters or acts or beats or arches, because before the those things were NOT a part of the writing career for novelists. These things were part of the stage play and tv script industry.
A beat was made so the actor would know how many steps to take between saying each line. "Read my line" tap my foot one two three four "Read my next line" tap my foot one two "Read my next line" tap my foot one two three...That's literally why it is called a beat.
The concept of writing in chapters, archs, acts, and beats in an invention of Save the Cat, a book written by a TV SCRIPT writer who admits right in the prologue that they not only never wrote a novel, they also have never read a novel. Sadly newbie writers are so excited to start writing that they grab the first how to write book they see, THEY DO NOT READ THE INTRODUCTION where the author tells them NOT to use the book for NOVEL writing advice, plainly stating it's advice for writing stage plays and tv scripts, pointing out that they never read or wrote a novel and don't know the first thing about novel writing... and use it to do what? Write a novel.
Save the Cat is a really good book, the best for writing stage plays and movie scripts, but it really shouldn't be used for writing novels. The story flow of a script is so vastly different from the story flow of a novel. I don't know if you read that book or not, but I know every word of advice you claim you are following originated from that book, and sadly gets parroted by a lot of people these days as gospel truth for novel writing, when even the author of that book themselves say not to use their book on how to write tv scripts to write a novel.
When I write, I do this:
I take a character and I tell their story.
I tell it just like I would if I was sitting at a campfire telling it to you in person. No introductions, no lore, no world building, I just tell the character's story beginning to end.
That's all author did before 1994 and books were far better than.
Today authors worry about meaningless structure details that no reader cares about, and that's why so few novels published since 1994 are worth reading.
If I wanted to read a dry tech book on history or geography, I's read a college textbook, not a novel.
I think far too many new writers fail to realize that a good 90% of the "how to write" and "how to publish" books out there are written by people who both never wrote a novel and never published one and exist for one purpose and one purpose only: to many it's author money from unsuspecting new writers who think they need a how to write self help book in order to write a novel, when really all they need is to create 1 or 2 characters and just start writing a story about those characters.
>>>Am I overthinking things
Are you overthinking?
Just write. Just take your character and write their story.
Don't worry about plot, structure, acts, arch, introducing things, none f that stuff matters if you don't have a story worth telling. And when a story is worth telling, it doesn't need those things any ways.
Every character has a story waiting to be told. Just tell tell their story. Tell the same way you would, if you were camping out with your best friend, and telling them a story while you cook marshmallows. That really is the ONLY thing we as authors actually NEED to do.
We writers, you, me, and every one else on this subreddit, we are storytellers. We weave stories for people to read and enjoy.
It makes me sad to see that so few novels published the past 20 years, actually tell a story, because the author spent too much time focusing on the technical details of A Plots, B Plots, Beat Sheats... it ridiculous. Readers don't care about introductions and acts, readers care about identifying with a character who shares experiences, goals, hopes, dreams the reader has.
Readers want characters who have been through what the reader has been through, so they can have someone to identify with.
Readers want characters who do things the reader wants to do but can't, so they read to experience it through the story.
Tell the story first, worry about the technical details later... and most likely by the time you get done writing the story, you'll discover, you didn't really need those tech details at all.
For most writers, thetech details are just going to trip them up and get in the way, clog up the story flow and slow it down.
Put story and characters first and you'll find everything else just sort of falls into place where it belongs on it's own as you write.
>When I first started my first draft, I was working with the pretty common wisdom that the first act of a novel should be about 20 to 25% of the story, length-wise. This time is for creating the setting, showing the protagonist in their normal world, establishing stakes and motivation, et cetera.
Unfortunately "common wisdom" is often quoted by people who don't work in the industry and think they know what they are talking about because they overheard someone else say something about it. So they misquote what someone else misquoted, making it doubly misquoted, and preach it as gospel truth. While every one who actually does have a career in the industry, rolls their eyes and goes What the flying f...? This is true of EVERY career and every industry, not just publishing/writing.
I grew up on an egg farm that had 500+ head of hens at any given time, not huge, but not small either. We knew the ins and outs of raising chicken from first hand experience. We also had goats and horses. City people who didn't know a hen from a rooster (literally, they called it hen and heness and had never heard the word rooster) showed up one day and tried to tell us how they were starting and egg farm and was scouting the competition, asked if they could have a tour of the farm. They yapped for a good hour on the pros of modern tech and bragged about all the Mother Earth News (magazine back than) articles they had read on raising chickens (a yet they didn't know what a rooster was???)
They dumped tons of money into their egg business, stopped by a few more times to ask for advice and help, continued bragging how they'd have more success then us, because we were old fuddy-duddies, who's been running this farm the same way since my 15th-great-great-greats+granddaddy founded it in 1530. 15th generation egg farmers who knew the egg industry from being born and raised in it on a farm that had been an egg farm for more than 400 years... and they were quick to tell us we didn't know what we was doing, because they had read articles in a magazine, written by people who had 5 hes and thought they made them experts in the egg business.
Well, needless to say within the first year they learned that most of the magazine advice they read was written by people who, while they had 5 pet hens in their backyard, didn't know shit about how to deal with chicken cannibalism, didn't know they could be arrested for selling uncandled eggs to the public, didn't know the CDC would shut them down and kill all their 2,000 hens by burning the barn to the ground, because they didn't vaccinate for Marek's Disease...
...yeah... there's a hell of a big difference between reading articles that sound like good advice, but probably are written by people who don't practice what they preach, and actually working in the industry and knowing the ins and outs of how it ACTUALLY functions.
Writing novels is the same way.
Sure there are a million and one "writing blogs" out there offering rehashed versions of advice written by each other, but how many of those writer blogs are written by ACTUALLY published novelists? No many sadly.
SEO Content writing is a big business. Many of them get paid $2k or more PER DAY from Google AdSense, from just one page of their websites. My top paying article brings in $900 a month, just one article on one page of that website. Content writers of the internet NOT novel writers are the writers who make the big money. Novel writers are the starving artists of the writing career. And once you accept THAT fact, than you can see WHY there are so many writing articles on the internet, telling you how to write a novel.
They don't want to help you write a novel, they want to attract Google bots to send them to page 1 in search results. And they will write WHATEVER they have to to get there. They don't care if it is good advice or accurate advice, so long as Google's Panda and Penguin give it's keywords the thumbs up.
So they write those articles for bots. They write what Penguin, Panda, Phantom, Humminbird, Pigeon, Fred, and Medic want to slap on page one of Google search results.
THIS is where the problem is for us novel writers in general, and young writers new to writing in particular.
They search Google looking for how to write a novel advice, and Google sends them NOT to the articles with the BEST advice, but rather to the articles with the best USE OF KEYWORD PLACEMENT in the article. The results in lots of newbie writers coming across the rehashed "common advice" that gets parroted over and over and over... but isn't actually very good advice at all.
Not knowing how Google ranks articles, they assume the top search results must be the best advice on how to write, and assume that the writers of those articles actually used that advice to write their novels...
... uhm... yeah... start looking into the writers f MOST writing blogs and writing websites and you'll quickly discover that most of them have NEVER written a novel at al and only started a writing blog because they thought it'd be a good way to make money online.
In short, it's a lot of people who don't actually write novels, who are dishing out most of the online advice on how to write novels, which has resulted in a lot of really bad advice being tossed around by a lot of newbie writers.
The whole situation is sad, because I see far too many young/new writers give up on their writing dreams, simply because they got some shady bad advice online and thought it was what "every writer" did.
Which brings me to...
>>>On the other hand, I've read a lot of recent advice (particularly aimed at YA writers) which seems to imply that the opening act, or at least the introduction to the characters and world, should be as short as possible. I've been told to hit the ground running, set the inciting event as close to the first page as possible, and deal with world-building and setting as it comes. Anything less and a modern audience will be bored.
>>>Am I overthinking things, or are these two pieces of advice in opposition?
Yes. The advice you are finding is contradicting each other.
Sadly BOTH are not standard or commonly used in the novel writing career/publishing industry and BOTH are hash advice common spouted off by content writers on "SEO Article Farming" style websites that try to pass themselves off as advice for writers.
Yes, BOTH are common advices you find on this subreddit, but do keep in mind the average user on this subreddit also openly admits they never read or write and just like to hang out here because it's one of the least toxic subs on reddit (we all know how toxic reddit can be, so it's understandable they like to hang out here)
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