Faith Hunter and Rules of Thumb.


1609060191_9780451465245_medium_Black_ArtsToday I’m talking about plot. Not pantsing or outlining. Not story arcs. And not my muse, who is pouting anyway, because I haven’t had to resort to his tactics lately. For those of you who remember my muse (David B Coe, you may skip the rest of this para) he is a six foot, four inch tall, hirsute, baldheaded man, with a beer belly, and wearing red cowboy boots, a red speedo, and cowboy hat. Oh. And he carries a whip. He isn’t pretty, which is a reminder that writing may be part of the arts, but it’s hard work and it can’t depend on my mood or some dewy-eyed concept of the life of a writer. It’s hard work. Very hard work. I do it whether I am having fun, or it feels romantic, or not. So. Plot.

Since I’m working on a series, my usual formula needs a lot of tweaking. Not twerking. That’s a different thing entirely. And twerking in the same space as a vision of my muse is just not a pretty picture. Anyway.

In case you don’t remember my rule of thumb about plot, it is, “Something has to happen every ten pages.”

I was talking to an editor recently about the progression of a book and he was evaluating for purchase. He said, “This is really a well written book. But it’s dragging so much.”

I said, “If something doesn’t happen every ten pages the reader gets bored.”

He said, “Yeah. That’s how often the plot needs to move forward in a mystery.”

I said, “Yup. And also how often the forward progression of the romance has to occur in a romance novel and how often the reader needs to learn something about the character in a character driven story. That’s character development. But really, that’s the attention span of a reader. A writer can have the best prose in the world, but if the story doesn’t progress we can put the book down.”

And that is always true.  Except it has to change just a bit in a long-running series. With a series character, a writer has to remember where the character came from, and where the character is going, and also, who the character is becoming. The writer must then write the novels with one foot in the past and one foot in the future. The reader has to be able to pick up a mid-series book and see glimpses of the character they read 4 books ago. And glimpses of the character who will be. All without being boring or repetitious, but also with being true to what has already been written.

Shesh. Prior to the Jane Yellowrock novels, my longest series was four books. I am now finishing book eight of a series. For me this is new territory. And I am not doing it all perfectly, I know. Fortunately, I have fans that forgive me and still love the series and the character. Because this is hard! Really, really hard.

So I am trying to write to the old formula, of “Something must happen every ten pages,” and make it blend with the new adage of, “One foot in the past, and one foot in the future.”  I am beginning to see how that works and how I can move forward with it.

Fans will have to decide if I succeed. We’ll see. And I’ll keep learning. I’m a young chick, right? I can still learn how to do something better, do something right.

Until next time,


Faith Hunter has written the Jane Yellowrock series and the Rogue Mage series, as well as the RPG Rogue Mage. Several of her novels have appeared on the New York Times and USA Today Bestseller lists, and she has two new books under contract. Under the pen name Gwen Hunter, she has written action adventure, mysteries, and thrillers. Under all her pen names, she has 30 books in print in 29 countries.

Faith is a workaholic and playaholic who makes jewelry, collects orchids and bones, travels in her RV with her hubby and two dogs, and white-water kayaks.  She also tries to keep house and cook, but since she started writing two books a year, she may have forgotten how to turn on the appliances.





15 comments to Faith Hunter and Rules of Thumb.

  • Definately a good rule of thumb to use. Sometimes we writers can ramble on about our favorite subject, the book we are writing right now, and forget that the book needs to move forward.

  • I am trying to start the second book in the new series and I am so, so aware of these issues. One foot in the past? Oh, yes. Every ten pages? Yep, trying to make that happen. Problem is I have an opening chapter that is the best 7 pages of writing I have ever done. It is so well written that I can’t believe I created it. But really, nothing happens. It sets up the whole novel, but there is no action. And I don’t know if the writing is enough to carry it off. — Sigh — You did say that this is hard, right?

  • You know, I knew that… but I don’t think I *knew* I knew it. Thank you so much for turning it into a pithy phrase to add to my writing arsenal! Something needs to happen every 10 pages = YES.

    David, just end the 10th page with AND THEN SOMETHING EXPLODED. Done. 🙂

  • Mark, the forward motion gets lost when the muse strikes (well,not my muse) and the writing flows like poetry. Cut cut cut. ACTION! Sigh…

    David, It’s the second book. Not the first. You can cut yourself some slack on it. I have spoken. (koffkoff)

    Delilah, it’s so much easier than thinking about story arcs and character arcs and all the technical lingo mumbo-jumbo. Just count pages. And if you write chapters that are 10 pages long it gets even easier. Also — I LOVE the “And then something exploded!” That is Jane Yellowrock’s world in a single phrase.

  • sagablessed

    Of course you’re young. Barely more than a spring hatchling.
    Good post on how to keep the reader interested. It is good to remind us from time to time about these things.

  • Ken

    Thanks Faith!!!

    I’m gearing up to start editing the, recently completed, WIP and I’ll need to:

    1. See how close to that rule of thumb I got naturally and
    2. Try and make that happen.

    This couldn’t have come at a better time 🙂

  • Faith, I thought your muse wore pasties with tassels too?

    Fantastic rule of thumb, thank you. No matter how much I want to be a writer of beautiful, golden prose SOMETHING has to HAPPEN. I just finished Jo Walton’s Tooth and Claw (think if Jane Austen had been a dragon and written about other dragons) and it occurs to me that she follows this rule perfectly without telegraphing it to the reader as a rule. The action moves with character and prose, not a switching between them. I think this is something I struggle with my own work. And now, back to work!

  • Thanks for the advice, Delilah. Faith couldn’t have said it better . . .

    And I meant to comment earlier: Faith’s muse? And twerking? I could have gone a lifetime without that particular image and been perfectly happy.

  • Saga, I have to remind myself…

    Ken, we all have a rhythm to our writing. Thriller writers tend to write easily within the 10 page rule of thumb. I think it’s the way our brains are wired. But yeah, write first. Check the pacing later!

  • Sarah, I forgot the pasties!!! Thank you. Mental image rebooted!

    David, I did say to stop reading. You juuuust could’t help yourself…

  • This is good advice for me, and something I need to focus on. Plotting has always been my downfall in the past–plotting in the sense you’re talking about here. I’d write a lot of stuff–“too much talk and not enough action.” But making something happen every 10 pages . . . that’s short enough and clear enough for me to remember!

  • I love that formula, Faith. It’s one thing I try to remember, not just for my own stuff but for when I’m beta-reading. An excellent diagnostic. Thanks!

  • Sisi, Plotting was always my biggest problem. The 10 page rule helps me keep pacing up while moving the story forward. And yes, it’s easy!

    Laura, my pleasure.

  • quillet

    This is really good advice for me too. I fall into the too-much-talking trap. A lot. So this’ll really help me. Just one question: roughly how many words is 10 pages, would you say?

  • Quillet, I use New Times 12 font, with fairly dense prose. My current work has rough draft done at 107,000 words and 332 pages. So for me, that makes it 322 words per page, and 3220 words between action. Roughly. I think. But I suck at maths.