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Wednesday, August 11, 2010

How Old is Your Novel?

On Twitter the other week several of us got into a discussion on the relative ages of novels. Trying to finish Twisted Metal, I contended that my novel was about 13:
It's making friends with abusive commas, dabbling in split infinitives, and wearing gaping plot holes as a fashion statement.

Naturally, this led the a discussion on how determine the age of your novel.

For your future reference, and amusement:

How to Date Determine the Age of Your Novel
because dating your novel is another matter entirely

You are gushing about your new story line to strangers, showing outlines to the in-laws, and meeting your writing group for drinks (virgin!) and cake to celebrate: Your novel is in it's infancy.

You've called your crit partner twice today in tears. Once this week you almost ran after a shiny new plot because this isn't what you signed up for, and your Significant Other just asked if you've gained weight (to many snacks while you should have been writing!): Your novel is in the Terrible Twos (or about chapter 3)

It's not that you don't adore your novel, but you need space. You've moved to a set schedule, a few hours of writing every night, no more than 2k a day, and you have time to go jogging, play with the dog, and go on dates again: Your novel is a preschooler.

You are sitting down with your novel and having real, meaningful conversations. Everything is opening up for your novel. Whole new plot lines and motivations are unfolding. Personality is shining through. Everything is working so well that you wake up screaming from nightmares about plot holes because you're waiting for the other shoe to drop: Your novel is in grade school.

Out of the blue your novel has developed spelling errors, comma abuse issues, and is wearing rag-ended chapters with notes that read [insert action sequence here]. Looking back from the last chapters at the beginning you see that your main character hasn't just developed a personality disorder, but their eye-color and height have changed. And that's not the worst part: Your novel is a pre-teen and it's almost time to edit.

You've gone to bed in tears every night for the past week. You toss and turn as you worry about a phrase. Your novel is on an extreme-delete diet and beginning to look like a catwalk model 3 calories from passing out permanently. Every page is a battle, every word is a knock-out mud fight, most the time you can't even find something positive to say about your novel as you edit: Your novel is a teenager.

Things are going well, you haven't talked to your novel in over a week because it's off visiting your crit-partner and learning a few things. The computer seems quiet. You find yourself mourning scraps of lost plot abandoned in the depths of your hard drive. You find yourself playing with early outlines and daydreaming about having another novel, because you miss the pitter-patter of little plot bunnies: Your novel is in college.

This morning you sat down over breakfast and had an adult conversation with your novel. There are still a few rough edges, but you're ready to get your spare time back and devote it to painting, or Novel #2. With hugs, love, and a letter of reference you kick that sucker out the door: Your novel is a graduate, and off to query-land.

Every letter home brings more bad news. Every day means another five rejections. You feel like someone is stabbing you in your heart again and again and again. All you can remember is how beautiful this novel was once upon a time. You remember every starry eyed dream about the best-sellers list and movie contracts. How can no one see the potential your baby has? Your novel is a 20-something, moving into the world and not getting enough traction.

You hang pictures of possible cover art on the wall and boast to friends about how much your novel sold for at auction. Your once snotty two-year-old novel that one time had a Kate streaking down the hallway instead of a cat has grown up. All the rough edges are polished and your baby is a poised professional: Your novel is 30, in its prime and ready for the limelight.

Only old friends ask about your novel now. Sometimes people mention it in passing. But most people want to talk about your newest sequel, or the latest gossip about movie rights. You look back on old outlines an laugh, how could you ever have been so naive? Everything you do now is so much more mature: Your novel is hitting old age.

A hundred years have passed since that fateful day when you sat at the computer to type up your first novel. Everything is different, and your novel is faded and out of date: Your novel is at the Fountain of Youth. It's a gamble whether your hard work will become a polished classic, loved and adored for centuries to come, or whether it gets recycled into pulp and reused to print the daily news. Good luck!


  1. LOL! And so true. My current novel is in its terrible twos right now, methinks. >.<

  2. Twisted Metal is a teenager. Dungeon Crawl I abandoned in the terrible twos/preteen era (I know, I'm a bad writer). And Jane Doe is a baby novel. Cute, cuddly, and not giving me fits yet.

  3. Love this! Shared it on my blog:


  4. Absolutely had to tweet this (yikes, I actually had to tweet something...how fast have I fallen). I love the analogy. Thanks for making me laugh and actually think about it.

  5. He he he... oh! I love having a silly idea go wild on the internet. I'm glad you both liked it so much :o)

  6. My novel is a preschooler. We're on a break.

  7. I can't begin to say how awesome this analogy is. Frightening. But awesome.

  8. Hehe. I have novels at all sorts of stages right now.

    I'm 'pregnant' with Secret Breaker;
    Borderlands is in the terrible twos;
    HNOT is a teenager (stab, stab);
    And Jesscapades is in edits, so I guess that's college?

    Nice analogy, anyway :D Much fun.

  9. Heehee :)

    My novel is in college!