Friday, March 19

Math: Making Novels Scary Since Two Hours Ago

Sometimes I dabble with the occasional cross sums puzzle, or add my dex mod to damage with a ranged weapon, or wrangle with web layout sizing, or scribble out fractions to figure out how to make a small enough cake to fit the volume of the more easily-washed round dish. I don't have the fierce, animal-like survival instinct that kept so many of my fellow writer types from taking math classes in college, though I can avoid a compound interest equation with the best of them.

But even I should have known not to involve the powers of mathematics in figuring out how much of my novel I have left to write. My current deadline, as imposed by my partner, is one week from today, at midnight. By then I am to have to have a either a complete novel, or a total of 99,975 words. Whichever I hit first. Already, my deleted scenes folder holds 5,000 words. It contains such gems as my main character's suffocation-by-whipped-cream suicide attempt; the irrelevent and little-known tale of how unicorns were banned from the paradise of Calgary, as Adam and Eve from Eden; and Thanksgiving Day 1985, in which the reader learns a great deal about the Macy's parade and my main character's cousin, Derelict Uncle Donald's derelict son Derelict Donald Junior, whose name was repeated ad nauseum to boost my NaNoWriMo 2008 word count. Considering the deleted scenes folder, I'd been figuring on the end coming around 105,000 words. Just another few days of writing after the deadline. Until Math came and tempted me to figure out a more accurate estimate, based on the average lengh of my completed scenes.

Before Math, I was content having a bunch of completed scenes, and a bunch of half-completed scenes. Post Math? I'm feeling overwhelmed by a fraction written on the notebook in front of me, a certain 15/65. Finished scenes out of total scenes. I can comfort myself and say that the fraction doesn't reflect how much I have written on the other 50 scenes, or all my plotting work. But if the fraction is stark, its cousin the percentage is the blunt (i.e. tactless) sort of wanker who asks if you've gained weight. The percentage says, in its friendly tone of passive aggression, "Are you aware that 23% of your novel is readable? That 23% is less than one quarter? And that fifteen non-consecutive scenes, totalling 29,000 words, can be shown to the other humans? But since they're meant to be read consecutively, you really only have one scene that works out-of-context, and that's the first one. It's 1.5% of your scene count."

Discouraging, right? But word count-wise (this is before Math, again) 87-91% was all done, just not in neat chunks with beginings and ends. Back to the scenes. Those 15 completed scenes averaged 1,999 words each. For each planned or partially written scene that was under 1,999, I added the difference to my word count projection. So for a scene that came to 1700, I would add 299. For one at 744, I would add 1255. For the scenes over 1,999, I added nothing; most of those are only missing small gaps, or need rearranging. My projection of 105,00 words shot up to 118,327, a number that's best pals with my 1.5% readable scenes. I can see them sitting up in grimy bleachers, heckling me and chucking beer cans at my optimistic 87-91% done.

Losing 10% of my completion status is the novelling equivalent of switching to Daylight Savings Time, but I still have 77% done. And that's over three quarters. But optimism isn't the moral of my story. The moral of my story is that Math is a bastard, because 77% is where I was two months ago.

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