Thursday, January 29, 2015

Estimating Length

No, not that length. Get your filthy minds out of the gutter. I'm talking about the length of a story.

Most recently, I was working on a short story for a call for submissions looking for spy-themed erotic stories between 3,000 and 7,000 words.

A while back, I had a sliver of a story idea. It was just an opening scene. A woman in a convertible is driving across one of the causeways in Miami. She's an undercover FBI agent and has stolen some information from the bad guy. She notices she's being followed, so she tries to hide the information.

At the time, I had her steal the information on a CD-ROM disc and use her lipstick to disguise it as a music CD. This technology is now obsolete, so I came up with a new method for stealing and hiding the information that worked for an erotic romance. You'll have to read the story if/when it's published to find out how.

While trying to find a place to hide the information, she runs into a guy from high school. He's now a librarian and she convinces him to help her. Worlds collide, sparks fly, and so on.

That was all the plot I had.

Of course, I had to develop the story—fill in the how, why, and what happens next. Most of that evolved from doing character development, including back story that would probably never make it into the final version, and establishing a theme. In this case, the theme emerged: a strong woman can be submissive too.

This particular story developed out of sequence. I had the opening. The scene where she meets the librarian quickly came together after that. Then things became sketchy. I knew I needed a climactic scene with the bad guy, but I wasn't sure when, how, or where that would take place. So then, I thought about how I wanted the story to end. Given the theme, I soon had an ending in mind and wrote a rough draft of the end scenes.

That left me with a beginning, an ending, and a big question mark for the middle. To get an idea of how much room I had to work with, I wrote a rough draft of the opening scene leading up to her running into the librarian. I decided the next scene should be from the librarian's point of view (POV)—to fill in some back story about his feelings for her and to describe her manner and appearance.

At this point, I was at about 1,500 words, so I thought I had lots of room to work with. As I wrote the scene from the librarian's POV, a rough scene breakdown started forming. It looked something like this:

  1.  Opening scene. Rissa's POV. Being followed, runs into Nick.
  2. Nick's POV. Surprised by her appearance, suspects something's wrong, learns she's an FBI agent working undercover as a dominatrix.
  3. Rissa's POV. Spanking scene.
  4. Rissa's POV. At her apartment later. Nick shows up, they talk, things start getting intimate, then Bad Guy shows up wanting her services.
  5. Nick's POV. Hiding in a closet, he watches Rissa play domme with the bad guy.
  6. Rissa's POV. Gets rid of Bad Guy and then Nick pounces on her. They have sex.
  7. Rissa's POV. Morning after. More intimacy develops with Nick.
  8. Climax. Rissa's POV. When, where, how, what?
  9. Ending-part A. Nick's POV. Rissa shows up at his office.
  10. Ending-part B. Rissa's POV. Happily Ever After.

The problem of the climax ate at me for a few days, then I slapped my head and realized I should KISS. (Keep It Simple, Stupid!) I decided the bad guy would just show up at her apartment the morning after and they'd have their big confrontation.

I went ahead with my writing and I was somewhere in the third scene when I noticed I was closing in on 5000 words. Alarm bells went off in my head and I added the ending, which I'd previously written. The word count then became 6,600, leaving me 400 words to get in five more scenes including the climax. I knew that was impossible.

The plot needed to be drastically scaled back and I had to make some serious cuts in what I'd already written. After trimming about a thousand words, I wrote the climactic scene, because that was absolutely necessary, then used what was left for the sex scene between the main characters. Even after simplifying the plot, I still went 600 words over the max word count and had to do more slicing and dicing.

In the end, I had to sacrifice a lot of back story, insight into the main characters, and cut the scene showing the protagonist in her dominatrix role. In hindsight, the original scene breakdown seems ridiculously long for 7000 words. Fortunately, I think the final version works and doesn't suffer for all the things I had to leave out.

However, I find myself in this position a lot—overestimating how much plot I can get into a certain length. I wish there was some formula to determine how much plot you can reasonably fit into a certain word count. If anyone has come up with such a thing, please feel free to share it with me. Hopefully, with more experience, I'll be better able to estimate length and avoid making such major changes.

By the way, the story mentioned above is a 6,993-word erotic romance called "Undercover Desires." It has been submitted to a publisher and is currently under consideration. My fingers are figuratively crossed and I will keep you posted.

All the best,

Ria ;)

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