The Long One

FIRSTLY... I'm late with this, but I just want to send out a HUGE congratulations to my friend and critique partner, Sarah J. Maas!! Her debut novel, Throne of Glass, released yesterday earlier this month (oy. It has taken me three weeks to finish this one entry.). I am SO thrilled for her! This book has been ten years in the making, and to see it finally hit the shelves makes me super emotional and sappy. Check it:

After serving out a year of hard labor in the salt mines of Endovier for her crimes, 18-year-old assassin Celaena Sardothien is dragged before the Crown Prince. Prince Dorian offers her her freedom on one condition: she must act as his champion in a competition to find a new royal assassin.

Her opponents are men-thieves and assassins and warriors from across the empire, each sponsored by a member of the king's council. If she beats her opponents in a series of eliminations, she'll serve the kingdom for three years and then be granted her freedom.

Celaena finds her training sessions with the captain of the guard, Westfall, challenging and exhilarating. But she's bored stiff by court life. Things get a little more interesting when the prince starts to show interest in her... but it's the gruff Captain Westfall who seems to understand her best.

Then one of the other contestants turns up dead... quickly followed by another. Can Celaena figure out who the killer is before she becomes a victim? As the young assassin investigates, her search leads her to discover a greater destiny than she could possibly have imagined.

I absolutely cannot talk this book--or Sarah--up enough. I mean, do you like any of the following?

- Well-rounded characters - Detailed, richly imagined settings - Lovely writing - Bad ass heroines - Swoony love interest(s) - Fighting! - Mystery! - Magic! - Courtly intrigue! - Girl friendship! - Did I mention MAGIC?!


When I read an earlier draft of what was then called Queen of Glass, I immediately fell in love with Celaena, the heroine of Throne of Glass. Not just because she is, indeed, bad ass when you hand her a weapon, or because she's always quick with a clever retort, or the fact that she's strong enough to survive slavery in truly punishing and horrific salt mines, but because... she's not perfect. She's the kind of character that, despite her training and upbringing, has a strong moral compass and tries hard to do the right thing even in the most dire of circumstances--but she can also be arrogant about her abilities and a little vain. There's so much to love about Celaena from the start, and you have an immediate sense of her potential for greatness. My favorite scenes with Celaena are those small moments in which you see her cherish something she really loves--there's this moment in the fourth novella that completely captures this, but to tell you about it would, of course, be a huge spoiler. :)

Okay, so, starting this entry with Sarah is actually perfect, because it dovetails nicely into something we both (depending on your point of view) excel at/struggle with, which is: word count. Sarah and I both write long books. LOOOOOOONG books. As in, our first drafts tend to be on the cray-cray end of the word count scale. The first draft of The Darkest Minds was just over 150,000 words. The final manuscript was just over 130,000 words (496 type-set pages). The first draft of Brightly Woven was about 130,000 words, if I remember correctly, and ended up being between 70,000 and 80,000 in the end.

Sarah has me waaaay beat, though--the original draft of Throne of Glass (then  Queen of Glass) was 240,000 words!

Why do I bring this up now? Well, because I finally finished a draft of Sequel. And that draft was...

(Editor Emily, look away, look away!)

187,000 words.

187,000 f'ing words.

How long is that page count-wise? Well over 600 pages. I actually had to adjust the font size to 11.5 so I wouldn't have a panic attack every time I opened the document. I think I actually wrote the last 100 odd pages over the course of a two week long panic attack. I am surprised that those pages are even coherent, considering all I wanted to do was crawl under my bed and never crawl back out. Writing this book has been THE most frustrating writing experience of my life. I kept waiting and waiting and waiting to hit the end of the book, only to find that I needed to insert another scene to flesh out this relationship or connect the dots on the plot. I write long books--but 187,000 words is too long, even for me.

I cut just shy of 15,000 words through line editing alone. Some of the length is just me overwriting: using repetitive descriptions, choreographing every single character's move in every scene, unnecessary adverbs.  I've talked before about how difficult writing a sequel is; it took me a good 100 pages before I even figured out who the new characters were, and what the actual story should be about. But most of the length is just the result of over-plotting. And by that I mean... there's just too much story.

One of the earliest critiques I got about my writing (I believe for Brightly Woven) was that the initial drafts felt too "episodic," meaning that while they did build up to a climax, it was slow-going and every step along the way didn't necessarily lead toward that end goal.  I'm naturally inclined to writing stories about physical journeys--Syd and North have to travel across their country, the Black Betty crew is looking for East River--so this usually takes the form of me spending too much time getting them where they need to go.  Too many little, self-contained scenes, too many steps along the way--basically, if BW or TDM were TV series, I was writing filler episodes.

I'm aware of it now when I write and I try very hard to avoid it, but sometimes I just can't think of a way to condense two locations into one, or slip in key components of one conversation into another one.  I'm very grateful for Emily and Laura, who are geniuses when it comes to stuff like this (Editors: They Work!).  Likewise, I try to pay attention to the physical shape of the book, too.  By that I mean... okay, let me give you an example:

Let's say Character A is searching desperately for Character B, traveling around his/her country, trying to follow various different leads.  It won't feel like a struggle to the reader if Character A sets off looking for Character B on page 50 only to find him/her on page 60.  I mean, unless Poor A has to cross volcanic pits and fight their way through a family of hungry jungle cats in those 10 pages.

I find it very disorienting, too, not to give a sense of time passing--it's hard for my brain to really buy that a story is taking place over years or months if it's a slim novel.


Anyway, I'd better finish this up here and now before I write you all a novel-length post and/or it takes me another three weeks to get around to posting it.  More from me later including a recap of my recent Virginia adventure and some reading recommendations :)