Same Song, Different Tune

Outtakes 195

Same Song, Different Tune

By Cait Collins


Three boys grew up together. They were closer than brothers. When they entered college, they chose the same major, planned to graduate together, and work together. But on graduation night one walks the stage to get his degree. Ten years later, they are reunited. What happened to separate the boys? What brought them back together?

On the surface, there is nothing new to this story. It’s been told time and again, because there are a limited number of stories. Depending on the instructor and the text book used, we were taught there are between four and seven stories; man against man, man against nature, man against himself, and coming of age are the most common themes. Yet each retelling can be new and exciting. It all depends on the writer, his theme, his characters, and the circumstances around which he builds the story.

What if the first boy was badly injured in a car accident while on vacation? The head injury resulted in a memory loss. He wanders the country looking for home. The second boy is forced to drop out of college when his mom, a single parent, dies suddenly. He has two younger siblings that need a guardian, and so he moves home to care for them; The third continues his studies, graduates, gets his masters degree, and makes a name for himself in his chosen profession. A news bulletin changes all three lives.

I’m playing with this story line.

I have a number of questions to deal with. What is the profession the boys planned to pursue? They need names. I’ll start out with Tom, Dick, and Harry. The characters will tell me who they really are. Who is the antagonist? I need three, maybe four major settings. What are their social backgrounds? Do they all have brothers and sisters? What secondary character will enter the story? Am I writing a novel or a novella? Is my work a mystery or closer to mainstream?

The process of creating a new work is both exciting and frustrating. There will be days when I am prolific and days when I struggle to write one paragraph. At this point I know one thing. Three boys, now men, will reunite. But will their reunion by joyous or a heartbreak? Truth is, I don’t know; however, they will tell me. The men will guide the story. I look forward to the adventure.



Thank you, Craig Johnson

Outtakes 192

Thank you, Craig Johnson

By Cait Collins


I met Craig Johnson, author of the Longmire mysteries, when he spoke in Amarillo a couple of years ago. I truly enjoyed listening to his journey as a writer. I’ve known writers who would speak for little money, but he was the first to say he’d meet with a group for a case of Rainier beer. Of course he was kidding, but he got a good laugh at the offer.

After reading my first Longmire novel, The Cold Dish, I was hooked. I’ve read a number of the books and keep looking for the ones I’ve missed. This brings me to a find when I was roaming the bookstore shelves recently. Mr. Johnson has written a wonderful novella.

The Spirit of Steamboat has me captivated. I allow myself 30 minutes each morning to read before going to work. I have come close to clocking in late the last two mornings because I hate to put the book down. Think A Christmas Carol, a Christmas storm, a decrepit B-25 World War II airplane, a Doolittle’s Raiders vet, a helicopter crash survivor, Walt Longmire, and a Christmas guest, and you have the makings of a what-will-happen-next holiday story.

The novella presents a different side of the writer’s talent. I am enjoying this read as much as I have loved his mysteries. I’m looking forward to reading Wait For Signs, a collection of Longmire short stories.

Adding and Subtracting

Outtakes 190

Adding and Subtracting

by Cait Collins


As a writer, I try to get the most bang for the buck with my stories. For example, can I turn a novel into a screenplay? Or could I rework a short story into a novel? No matter what I decide to do, I run into roadblocks, tar pits, and briar patches. Truthfully, I can’t decide if it’s easier to expand a work, or cut it back. Here’s what I’ve learned.

I had a novella. I really liked what I had written. The characters were multi-dimensional and interesting. Secondary characters added spice to the story. I had a good setting with my small Texas town. Above all, I liked my storyline. A rich man tries to destroy a young woman and her family because he can. Now the lady is back and out for justice. I ran the idea by an agent and he replied, “I can’t sell this as a novella, but you have enough plot twists to make it a novel.”

Okay, I could do a novel. All I needed was another 300 pages and I had to write the additional material while maintaining the integrity of the story. Well, I wrote it; 550 pages of carefully plotted revenge. Now it’s too long and I have to cut about 150 pages; which means I will have to delete scenes I really like.

On the other hand, I have a short story that is too long for a call for submissions. But how do I cut it back to 350-400 words without destroying the emotional impact of the piece?

At some point, a writer realizes part of the craft is either adding scenes or subtracting words. We balance the plot while increasing dialogue or deleting adjectives and adverbs. And sometimes we just can’t make the math work, so we scrap the revisions and start over. I guess I never realized how important mathematics would be for professional writers.

Word Count

Word Count

By Rory C. Keel


As writers, it’s easy to become absorbed in our writing. We are the defenders of our plot and characters, sometimes to a fault. We create new worlds and imaginary realms where the impossible becomes possible, where truth and justice prevail and love conquers all.

But then there’s reality.

When we pitch our project to an agent or publisher one of the first questions asked is, “What is the word count?” As the writer it may not matter, after all, it’s the story that counts, right? However in publishing it means Money.

It is estimated that for every 10,000 words over the stated guideline of a publisher, it could equate to a ten percent increase in publishing costs.

While researching word counts for my writing projects, I have found the following basic word counts to be a standard measure in the industry.

Chapter book (6-8 yr.) 5-25,000 words

Middle reader (8-12 yr.) 25-40,000 words

Young adult (12-18 yr.) 40-75,000 words

Novelette 7,500-20,000 words

Novella 20-30,000 words

Short Contemporary 50,000-60,000 words

Long Contemporary 70,000-80,000 words

Short Historical/ Mainstream 90,000-100,000 words

Romance novel 90,000-100,000 words

Long Historical/Mainstream 108,000-120,000

Remember, these are averages and the submission guidelines for your particular agent or publisher should be the final say.