The Mystery Of My Novel’s Word Count

by Shelt Garner

For much of the development of my first novel, I’ve dealt not in words as my metric, but scenes. So, here I am, just about to wrap up a solid third draft of the novel and I honestly have no idea how long it is — at least in terms of words.

In general, your scenes are supposed to be about 1,000 words on average. Just eyeballing the scenes and their length found with this novel I…dunno. My fear is that I’m going to pay a little too much of an homage to Stieg Larsson and the novel will be ~160,000 words.

The idea of it being that long makes me wince.

A first novel is SUPPOSED to be somewhere between ~80,000 and ~100,000 words. The second draft of this novel came in about just about 80,000 words. A few things led to the second draft potentially being longer.

One is, my beta readers said I crammed too much into the first act too quickly. So, that got me thinking about how I could stretch out the beginning of the novel so readers wouldn’t feel overwhelmed. What I didn’t expect was I would spend months and months spinning my wheels, trying to figure out the details of this new, extended first act.

Finally — FINALLY — it occurred to me that for the purposes of giving the novel a clearer point that I needed to split the novel into two. The first novel would be about my heroine’s quest to own a small town newspaper in Virginia and the second novel would be about her investigation into a murder that took place in the third act of the first novel.

This plan has worked out really, really well. My first novel now has a very clear purpose and objective for its heroine — owning a small town newspaper. Everything else hangs off of that goal in a really cohesive, coherent manner.


The issue of how fucking long this novel is going to be continues to linger in my mind. I just don’t know. If it’s about 140,000 words, then I will be cool with that because the novel The Girl On The Train is about that long and was a success. Anything beyond 140,000 and…I dunno what to tell you.

I suppose what I can do is just accept that the novel is on a structural basis too long. While I will still query it, in the back of my mind, I will understand that my best shot at getting published will be the new scifi novel I’m working on that is built from the ground up to be as marketable as possible.

That’s the goal at least.

But it’s still sinking in that I’m on the cusp of finishing my first novel. It’s really deep! After all these years of drifting towards my goal, I’ve just about reached it.

Now watch me drop dead like Stieg Larsson. Ugh.

I’m….Almost Done With My First Novel?

by Shelt Garner

I have been going through an iteration of the third draft of my first novel at a pretty nice clip. I will probably wrap up SOMETHING pretty soon. It may take a little bit longer than expected because the second half of the novel is not as polished as the first half, but, in general, I am on track to having a “finished” first novel no later than July 22, 2024.

I hope my first novel is as compelling and accessible as Stieg Larsson’s The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo.

The old adage is that all novels are never finished, only abandoned and I understand what it meant by this — this novel is never going to be perfect. There’s always going to be a scene that I feel could be better worded or structured.

But, in general, I’m really pleased with what I’ve come up with.

I have a lingering concern that the novel may be too “racy” for the woke cancel culture mob, but I have settled on a vision for this novel and, as such, my heroine is a part-time sex worker (stripper) during the course of the events of the novel.

I understand how that element of the novel could be…controversial…but it really helps to not only add an unexpected element to the novel, but to flesh things out in general. The sex worker element of the story adds conflict and tension that would otherwise not be there.

But the potential problems with this element of the story has prompted me to really plunge into the backup scifi novel concept I’ve been thinking about. In fact, all I have to do before I start writing the first draft of the novel is sit down and do some character studies.

It is very possible that I will begin the querying process for the main novel in a few months. I have to admit I’m at a loss as to what I’m going to do about that. And, of course, there’s a chance that just as I’m trying to query my first novel, all hell will break loose as The Fourth Turning / The Petite Singularity happen starting in late 2024, early 2025.

But who knows. I can’t predict the future. Anything might happen. And I have to accept that successfully querying my first novel will be like winning the creative lottery. And, yet, the whole point of writing a novel to begin with was to have something bigger than myself to think about.

These Novel Writing Projects Are Existential

by Shelt Garner

It is becoming more and more clear to me that I could be nearly 60 years old before I become a published author — if that even ever happens. What’s more, it’s also clear that there is a pretty good chance that if the Petite Singularity doesn’t make all my hard work moot, that some sort of severe political crisis starting in late 2024, early 2025 might just do the trick.

My dream is that my “passion project” main novel is as accessible and popular as Stieg Larsson’s The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo.

And, yet, here I am determined to keep going with two different novels that I’m working on.

The key thing is that I manage my expectations. I’ve decided on an existential basis that I’m willing to use what little time I have left on this planet to at least TRY to become a published author, problems and obstacles be damned. I have a huge chip on my shoulder about my writing ability and I want to the validation of getting the approval of literary gatekeepers.

Having said all that, I am really working on my backup scifi novel. The main novel, the “passion project” has problems because its heroine is a part time stripper at club that she owns. I am WELL AWARE of how problematic this may be to younger people — especially women — but I really like how unique and unexpected this part of my heroine’s personality is and so, lulz, fuck it.

Meanwhile, the backup scifi novel is built from the ground up to be as marketable as possible. That’s the goal, at least.

In an ideal world, one of the two novels will sell and I could use the popularity of one novel to get the other novel published. But I have my doubts about if such a cross-pollination of success is possible, given that the two novels are of such different genres.

Anyway. I am pleased with what I’ve come up with and the goal is to wrap up a final third draft of the “passion project” novel no later that around July 22.

Am (Almost) Querying: Now What

by Shelt Garner

It has occurred to me that there may be a problem with my plan to have a backup novel that is meant to be a lot more marketable than the main “passion project” novel — the two novels are different genres.

My main “passion project” novel is meant to be an homage to Stieg Larsson’s The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo.

I don’t know how much of this problem is in my own mind because I’m overthinking things and how much is real. My theory of the case is it will be easier to sell the scifi novel — then I will use the success of that novel as leverage with the thriller novel.

My concern is, of course, that the two novels begin different genres will cause their paths to be mutually exclusive. But I think I’m overthinking things. I think the concept is still valid — if I use one novel to get an agent, I can leverage that success to sell the other novel.

Or, I suppose, I could just throw up my hands in despair because “everything sucks” and I’m too old to ever have any additional success in life. But I’m just not prepared to admit defeat just yet. I’m going to keep going because no one can predict the future.

I’ve learned a lot about developing and writing a novel from the main “passion project” and I’m hoping that those skills will allow me to develop and write a scifi novel far more rapidly than the mystery thriller. I’ve already seen evidence of that with the mystery thriller.

I hope to wrap up an outline of the scifi novel pretty soon. I’m just about to wrap up the latest iteration of the third draft of the novel. Once I wrap that up, then I am going to find myself at a crossroads. I don’t quite know what I’m going to do in the near term, but I’m sure I’ll think of something.

Why Has It Taken Me So Fucking Long To Get To This Point With The Novel?

by Shelt Garner

I am now lurching towards wrapping up my first novel after years of working on it. I am taken aback by how long it has taken me to get to this point. Reviewing in my mind the journey that got to me to this point I have come up with some observations.


One is, I simply had no idea what story I wanted to tell. I spent some time thinking I wanted to write a scifi novel, but that turned out to be just to huge and I shelved it. Then I pivoted to the idea that I wanted to write a mystery-thriller that would allow me to make some political and social commentary about the Trump Era.

But I spent a lot of time just spinning my wheels on that one and I was still spinning my wheels when I realized in early 2021 that because Trump was no longer POTUS that my original intent for the story was no longer as timely. It occurred to me that I had this massive backstory about the novel I was working on at the time and it would be interesting to tell the very beginning of a 25 year tale that would end with the novel I had originally wanted to write about the Trump Era.

Once I got to that point, things began to move a lot quicker, even as the project went from one novel to two, and ultimately six.

I hope to write a novel that is as accessible and popular as The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo.

And then something curious happened. I had planned to begin the third draft of the novel in September, only to spend months just spinning my wheels in the first act. I just could not figure out what I wanted to do with the first act of the novel.

There came a point when I realized that there was a way where I could write a novel that made sense and yet was totally different than what I had originally planned. It would require me to expand what was the first act of the novel into two third of a new novel and using a chunk of what had been the end of the first act and the beginning of the second act of the second draft.

This is the point where things changed dramatically for the story. It occurred to me that it would be very provocative if I leaned into something only alluded to in the second draft of the novel — the idea that the heroine owns a strip club. As such, I decided to have the heroine not only own a strip club but, for the duration of the novel, on occasion strip, too.

Now, clearly, if I had a wife or a girlfriend who was a Reader who could tell me “no” I probably wouldn’t have decided on such a strategic change to the plot of the novel.

But I don’t have that. So, lulz, I’ve come up with a really compelling story that MAY have too much sex in it to ever get published. But I don’t know yet. I’m too obsessed with finishing a novel of some sort that I am going to wait until I finish the third draft of this novel before I make any assessment like that.

And I continue to want to work on a backup scifi novel just in case my fears about the main novel being too “spicy” turn out to be correct. Then there is the issue of me being too bonkers for any literary agent who does due diligence on me so, well, there you go.

Is My Novel Too Spicy?

by Shelt Garner

Now that I’m racing through the second act of the third draft of my first novel I find myself mulling some Big Issues. One is the idea that this novel may be a bit too spicy. My fear is that I am using sex scenes as a crutch. And, yet, I once saw a quip from someone where they said characters in novels have much, much more sex than people in the real world.

So, I don’t know.

Having said that, I do really think this is a pretty damn good novel, all things considered.

Another issue that I worry about is the fact that I’m a smelly CIS white male who writes about a same-sex relationship between two women. Now, obviously, the late Stieg Larsson did the same thing with the novels he wrote before his death.

But things have changed over the last 20 years and there is a real concern that, by definition, there is a real chance that no matter how good I am with writing the novel that should I sell the novel that a whole slew of earnest young women will produce Tik-Tok after Tik-Tok complaining that I wrote what I wrote.

As I keep saying, I just find women far more interesting to write than than men. Writing female characters is such a challenge that the struggle to present women in a believable way as a male author is something I really like.

Video: Idle Rambling About The State Of The Third Draft Of My First Novel

It’s Comical How Much I Move Scenes Around

by Shelt Garner

As I move through the second act of this third draft of my first novel, I continue to move scenes around at a comical, alarming rate. And what makes this behavior even worse is there’s a chance all of it will be quite moot. I have, in general, used what Stieg Larsson did with his chapters as a guide.

This woman has the general phenotype of my heroine.

And, yet, it seems as though modern novels may have shorter chapters than he had. So, it’s possible that for all my futzing with chapters and the sequence of POVs within them…lulz?

I suppose I can console myself by with the thought that even if the first thing happens with the novel should I somehow, magically, sell this novel is everything changes with the scenes and chapters, at least I will have presented the best possible vision for this novel before I came to that point.

That, at least, is what I’m saying to myself to make myself feel better.

My heroine has a sleeve tattoo similar to the one that Megan Fox now sports, even though I thought of the idea first.

But I can’t help myself. I have some very, very strict, arbitrary rules about what “looks right” in the outline I have, even though I’m the only fucking person who will notice such shit — especially if I tell a great story. People will be so wrapped up with reading the story that they won’t give a shit about the exact sequence of POVs within a chapter.

It will be interesting to see how things work out. If nothing else, I’ve come up with a novel I can be proud of, no matter what the ultimate endgame of this particular journey might be.

T & A: Struggling With How To Depict Female Characters In The Age Of The ‘Woke Cancel Culture Mob’

by Shelt Garner

I really enjoy developing and writing female characters because it’s so much more of a challenge than male characters. And YET, the whole notion of me, a smelly CIS white male, writing from a female point of view is fraught with potential problems.

Ugh. ‘Woke’ people.

There are so young women on Tik-Tok are quite strident in their belief that, by definition, I can not write from a female POV. And that is just the beginning of what the potential creative landmines I have to deal with when I do something as now-provocative as write from a female POV.

Again, as an aside, let me be clear — had I know what a potential pain in the ass doing any of this would be, I wouldn’t have done it. But I studied Stieg Larsson’s original Millennium series and HE wrote from a female POV all the time so when I started working on what could now be a seven novel project…I didn’t really give it much thought.

From what I can tell of the “woke cancel culture mob” Tik-Toks I get pushed on occasion, one big quibble that some “woke” readers have is the what they feel is the gratuitous tendency for male authors — like me — to talk about tits and ass.

As someone who actually writing a novel, I really struggle with the idea that this is some big deal. One of the thing that is so appealing about female as opposed to male characters is there is so much to work with. Because women are so much more judged on what they look like than men, the writer — that would be me — has a lot to work with.

This is the general phonotype of my heroine.

So, the issue of how big my female character’s breasts might be is actually pertinent — in my view — when it comes to describing her to the audience. Hell, Stieg Larsson spend a long-ish scene talking about how and why Lisbeth Salander got breast implants. This is especially important when should there be a need to give the reading audience some sense of the character’s self-perception.

All of this sturm and drang about how horrible it is that smelly CIS white males like me talking about tits and ass gives me a great deal of self-conscious stress. I just want to present my female characters as interesting and engaging as possible and sometimes I feel that I need to, in a matter-of-fact kind of way describe their bodies and their self-perception and interaction with them.

The ‘woke’ always have their eye on you. Wink.

It should not be that big a deal if I do it all in a non-salacious manner. I’m WELL AWARE that some ding-dong male authors use their female character as an opportunity to design characters they clearly want to fuck.

Ok, I get it.

While we’re on the subject of female characters, I must note that my one big quibble about Stieg Larsson’s work is how ALL of his female characters are good. It seems a disservice to both the story and the audience for there to be no female characters who are not on the side of good.

Now, obviously, I haven’t really read the post-Larsson novels published by his estate, so that issue may have been fixed.

Anyway. What do I know. I’m a smelly CIS white male. I should nothing at all but sit in my dark bedroom, twiddle my thumbs and stare at the ceiling.

Things Are Moving Along At A Nice Clip With The Third Draft Of My First Novel

by Shelt Garner

I spent all morning writing out scenes and I hope — hope — to throw myself into similar writing this afternoon. It definitely seems that, barring something I can’t predict, that I am still on track to wrap up the third draft of this novel no later than July 22 — the 20th anniversary of my first trek to Asia in 2004.

Barfly makes good.

I’m really leaning into character with this latest attempt at a third draft. And, what’s more, I’m really smoothing out the rough edges of the plot. Scenes no longer can be moved around without regard for where they are in the outline. That comes from how stable — in general — the plot of the novel is at the moment.

All of this is happening in the context of me continuing to worry about what the fucking “woke cancel culture mob” will think of me, a smelly CIS white male, writing from a female POV. I TRY to be as empathic as possible and to make it clear that I “get it” when it comes to what women may experience. And, yet, I could be fucking Darren Star and there will be young women on Tik-Tok who simply can not accept that a middle aged dude like me can possibly write from a female POV.

Ugh. Woke people.

But, slings and arrows, as they say.

I just want to tell a great yarn and it just so happened that the story I want to tell involves me writing scenes from a female POV. When I started this project, I simply followed what Stieg Larsson did. I had no idea that it would be such a fucking big deal that I might write from the POV of a woman. Had I known that it was even an issue, I probably would have constructed the novel differently.

And, yet, lulz. I want this novel to be an old brown shoe for people who have read the original Millennium novels written by Larsson while he was alive, so there you go.

I hope my novel will appeal to readers who liked The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo.

Having said all that, I am really pleased with how this novel is shaping up. It definitely may be too long — which is a real problem — but the story is coherent, cohesive and cogent. It tells a story that is engaging enough that maybe a few people — who don’t even know me! — will feel enough interest to actually finish the damn thing.