What The Hell Have I Written?


For almost two years now I’ve been working on my beloved novel, The Mechanician’s Apprentice. It’s closer to being finished than started but the thing is… I don’t actually know what it is yet. I mean I know the genre and everything there is to know about the setting, the characters and the plot. But how do I describe it (and sell it) to publishers and readers?

Here’s the first question people ask me after reading some of the book: Is this for kids or for adults? I like to think both but in truth I never actually wrote it for any particular audience. The style of writing is quite whimsical and the protagonist is a young boy. That’s what makes people think it might be for children. I think they’re right, young teens – boys especially – will love it. But the story is 160k words long and later on we have some pretty violent deaths. They fit though and thinking back to when I was that age, I’m sure it won’t warp their minds.

The kicker is that about half way through we have a scene where the heroine is almost raped by another character. Now that is pretty dark and (intentionally) takes the reader by surprise. It doesn’t actually happen though and there’s no nudity or anything, mostly just words but still you can’t hide from it. The remainder of the offending character’s arc is his journey to redemption and perhaps forgiveness. I can’t just write that one scene out. Can I change it though? Would it still work if he was just a thief or something? Or do I just man up and label it for grownups only?

The other big issue is one I’ve already mentioned. This baby clocks in at around 160k words, lengthyeven for an adult novel and too long for a debut. I had the story in my head and just wrote until it was done, I was never thinking about length.

The obvious solution is that I chop it into smaller volumes. Now there’s already some structure there to help with this – the story is split into 3 parts, a sort of mini trilogy. They’re not evenly sized though:
Part 1 – 36k
Part 2 – 44k
Part 3 – 80k

So…

One epic novel?

Combine parts 1 and 2 to get two average length novels?

A slightly skewed trilogy?

Or split part 3 in two resulting in a saga of 4 novellas/YA novels?

Oh so many questions on my troubled mind. I’m sure the answers are hiding in there somewhere, hopefully at the end of this draft they’ll have come to me.

Is anyone plagued but such issues?

Title image courtesy striatic

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Published in: on July 9, 2011 at 10:30 AM  Comments (7)  
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7 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. Yes. I have no idea what I’ve written genre wise. I say steampunk, but it is only nominally so. I don’t know if it will appeal to steampunk readers at all.

    Perhaps its a question your beta readers can answer? I’d be hesitant to break it up from the get go. Perhaps there are parts they think can be cut, or maybe they think that the book needs this length to be told. There are always exceptions to the rule.

    So, are you done then? 🙂

    • That’s a smart suggestion Tessa – getting feedback from beta readers will definitely help. When you’ve spent so long looking at a story from the inside it’ll definitely be beneficial to hear from someone with fresh eyes.

      I’m not done just yet – half through my 3rd draft so probably another two months. As I’d mentioned, it’s in parts though so I might send out parts 1 and 2 to any willing beta readers soon!

  2. Whatever it is, good luck figuring it out! It would be nice if we could just write a thing, and let it be what it is, and let selling it take care of itself. But especially if you’re going the traditional publishing route, classifications matter…

    • Cheers Stephen. I know what you mean but I guess if you look at it from a reader’s perspective, you want to know which of shelf to go to and quickly be able to make a decision on whether it’s a book for you or not.

  3. Hi David – You have to give this a lot of thought and decide who you are writing for and specifically what genre – I have read fantasy including Harry Potter series and His Dark Materials and Sci-Fi, PKD and Vonnegutt and Bradbury and I think they all wrote distinct genres – for specific audiences – so you have to be clear in your own mind where you are taking this. Is this for kids or adults is not specfic enough – a lot of research into other writers work should help. I would suggest reading at least one of a selection of the most popular authors across the sci-fi/fantasy spectrum to determine who your audience is. You are a talented writer – I have seen this from your shorts on Shortbread. To turn your talent into a career in writing needs a lot of work finding your niche – best of luck, Adam

    • Thanks for the advice Adam, very much appreciated. I recently attended a session with the author Laura Marney and she said something very similar to you there – describe your target audience in three words. I went for “young, excitable geeks”.

  4. I think you’re on the right track with your 3-word description.

    Categorizing is hard when you start out with a story that came to mind and don’t consider genre. I agree with you though, it’s good to think from the readers’ perspective that they want to know where to go to find the kinds of books they like.


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