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Project Size

How do you know what size a project should be? Article, short story, poem, book, whatever. Does the idea occupy a clear quantity of words or binding? Do you like writing certain lengths, so everything fits that? Do you commit to lengths, personally or in contract, and add or edit out whatever additional material is needed to fit them?

I'm interested in the question generically, but personally, this is about the Stew Project again. When I proposed the paper, I thought it might be paper-length. I've done the paper, and now I think it might be book length, but I'm not certain I'll know that until I've written it and found out. This may well be a product of my inexperience in writing book-length projects, however, or may reflect how much more work I could yet do on this.


( 20 comments — Leave a comment )
Jul. 22nd, 2009 12:09 pm (UTC)
Hmm. Good question. I think, at the moment, because of where I am in career-stage, I am thinking of everything in terms of give paper/turn into article, in that order, because that seems to be the way that Fortunata developed. Tiny ideas also germinate as papers and then spring book-length ideas on me, like the Next Book (eroticisation of knowledge) has done out of the penis poetry paper. The same goes for the Barbies - I know they're paper length, but don't know whether or not they're article length, although I jolly well hope so.

I suspect my way of doing things is to start small and work upwards. Perhaps one way of tackling the Stew Project would be to see what one of the chapters would look like as an article, and then if you've got enough to write the rest of the book after the article, you know you're good?
Jul. 22nd, 2009 12:24 pm (UTC)
That's a good suggestion. Plus, I'd need to write article-length versions anyways to build a book. (Although not necessarily organized as such. Books can be collections of articles, but that doesn't necessarily make a good, cohesive book.)

I already have a stew-related idea for a possible Leeds paper for next year, which I figure is a good sign of the richness of what I'd like the project to become.
Jul. 22nd, 2009 12:10 pm (UTC)
When writing stories, the ideas tend to come in three types.

1. A short story. It's clear from the word 'go' that this is somewhere between 2,000 to 6,000 words in length. The idea fits neatly into that space, and short of serious playing around, it tends to cover all the concepts that I want it to.

2. A novel. All the ideas are there, and I know it's far too long to fit a short story. I have glimpses of scenes from various parts, and I can tell that the distance between those scenes is counted in thousands of words, not hundreds. As per current WIP, I usually have the first 20k or so pretty organised before I start, and then the rest can get clearer as I go.

3. Who knows? I have a couple of ideas floating around at the moment that refuse to latch onto anything lengthwise. Usually I explore these to see if they can be expanded into novel length, or mixed with something else.

Current WIP is planned for 75k first draft. Roughly 90k for second draft, and somewhere between 80-85k as finished.
Jul. 22nd, 2009 12:21 pm (UTC)
Have you ever had the problem of thinking something was novel-length, only to find it needed multiple novels to accommodate? (I don't think this is relevant to me, but it does seem to regularly happen with one author whose mailing list I follow.)
Jul. 22nd, 2009 12:57 pm (UTC)
Personally, no. But Matt does! So far, my ideas seem to fit nicely into novel lengths...
Jul. 22nd, 2009 12:25 pm (UTC)
It's a "how long is a piece of string" question. Mostly the idea dictates it. At the extreme point, the idea determines whether it will be a novel or a short story; after that, so to speak, we're discussing the price - exactly where the level will be set.

Having said that, I'm firm with myself when it comes to songs; I have no intention of boring the audience, so it will be a maximum of five verses.

Anything else... I'll never forget one of the books my late husband owned, where the author apologised for writing a long book because he didn't have time to write a short one.
Jul. 22nd, 2009 12:43 pm (UTC)
That's very considerate of you, with songs. And a wonderful apology!

Tangentially, although you (obviously) meant it rhetorically, I find myself suddenly very interested in the length of string. Apparently, the length of string is not regulated in this country. Yet it comes in units, usually multiples of 10 meters. Pragmatically, there are outer limits to the size of pieces of string. At a certain point, it will weigh too much to transport.
Jul. 22nd, 2009 01:12 pm (UTC)
Compared to it's diameter, DNA has got be quite a long old bit of string.
Jul. 22nd, 2009 12:50 pm (UTC)
I tend to think of papers as one of two things -- either they are self-contained and really are all one could (or should) say on a topic -- a close reading of a formula, for example -- or a section of an article that may itself be a version of a book chapter. For me (and you know how much experience I have, so ...), it depends on whether the paper begins as a, "here's something interesting I want to look at further," project or a, "this is a part of a bigger project I've already started," thing. It sounds like stew is something in the former category.

If you want to do more on it, perhaps it would make sense to think about where you want to submit it, and then see what their word requirements are? I know it seems like a silly way of setting a limit, but sometimes, that's practical!
Jul. 22nd, 2009 01:09 pm (UTC)
Thank you! That's why I've been unsure about scope. All my previous conference papers were more of the second kind, small spin-offs of existing work I would not otherwise make time to focus on. They were all naturally articles, should anything else come of them.

This is the first time I've presented on something with which I really am just beginning to get acquainted. That's also why I'm finding scope confusing. Parts of it could be the start of articles or other conference papers. Lots of it could be the seed for a book. After answer steepholm's question, I can now see the potential for multiple related books, which I why I was having trouble tidily outlining a single one. Hmm.
Jul. 22nd, 2009 12:56 pm (UTC)
That's the thing about stew: you can make as much or as little as you need. Personally I'd love to see that paper expanded, and some of the hints you dropped run ruthlessly to ground. Would this book be about fantasy food generally, or strictly stew? If the former, there's definitely a book in it.
Jul. 22nd, 2009 01:02 pm (UTC)
It's even larger - potentially - than that at this point. I know I could do a whole book on fantasy food, and it's tempting, but for the sake of integrating it with my existing academic tendencies, it's a project on how humans - real or fictional - use language to classify, conceptualize, and communicate about foreign or alien food. It's a set of case studies in the history of discovery and invention. (Which in itself may or may not be too big for one book. I'm not sure. But I like the topic.)

"Stew Project" really is just shorthand.
Jul. 22nd, 2009 01:04 pm (UTC)
I had wondered about that myself. Thanks.

Does sound interesting.
Jul. 22nd, 2009 01:13 pm (UTC)
Aha - yes, expanding on that very interesting point you made about how contact with alien cultures often prompts the use of generic food words? Intriguing!
Jul. 22nd, 2009 01:50 pm (UTC)
Yes, exactly!

Although, on the subject of fantasy food: for years, I've been thinking of starting a dedicated blog on the subject. In the past few weeks, C. intrepidly set up server space for it and we finally found a good name for it. So it may yet happen. It seems like a good way to accrete evidence in the long run for some larger, related project.
Jul. 22nd, 2009 05:14 pm (UTC)
You will post the URL here, won't you if/when it gets underway? I would be very interested in a fantasy food blog, both as writer and reader.
Jul. 22nd, 2009 11:12 pm (UTC)
Yes, absolutely! I'm only being coy about the name right now since I've already registered the domain and it's a live site - but all full of test data currently.

Technically, not *all* fantasy food. My concept is language of food - but with at least 50% of the focus on food made up for SF & F works.
Jul. 23rd, 2009 12:43 pm (UTC)
Language of food, whether it's real food or fantasy food sounds good. :)
Jul. 23rd, 2009 02:54 am (UTC)
That sounds pretty interesting!

(And relevant to my interests! When I was in Yokohama, I read a bit on foreign foods that were introduced to Japan during the treaty ports period, including curry and beer. And I've heard about ramen, which was for a while in Japan "Chinese soba." And I wonder how on earth the Americans and Brits dealt with Japanese food... when they weren't insisting on everyone making what they were used to eating, as best they could. It seems like you could cover a lot of ground if you so wanted. And had several of you, or otherwise minions to research it.)
Jul. 22nd, 2009 03:18 pm (UTC)
I usually see a shape around an idea, but they've changed on me. It's not a logical process as most of my thinking is image-related and intuitive, alas.
( 20 comments — Leave a comment )