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Taming Monster Word Counts

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Gah! :aah Dear BlueBoarders, please help me!

My first two MSS, despite my outlines, clocked in around 110,000 words each, despite my plans that they'd be about 80,000 words long. And, instead of X event being the huge climax, as I planned, other climaxes came into being, and the big X event was postponed to the be the climax of stories that had suddenly become trilogies! My reputable agent liked these stories, and sent them out, but they haven't sold yet.

On my third and latest WIP, I promised myself most severely that this work WILL NOT exceed 300 pages (85,000 words). NOT EVEN!

But here I am, at this very second, about to write page 300...and, instead of being triumphantly finished with my draft, I have about fifty more pages or so before I'll have satisfactorily finished up the climax and loose ends.

AAAAAARRRRRRGGGGGGHHHHH!  :2brickwall   Why can't I control my stories?  What do you do to tame your beast? :bighelp
#1 - July 16, 2013, 07:57 AM

First a big :grouphug2:  I have that same problem, when writing and when talking. Lol. What can I say, I like words.

Here's what I've learned now that I'm starting on my 4th book - remember that you are telling a story and then tell it. Forget about word counts and industry trends and the use of the forbidden adverb and all of that stuff while you are creating. At least for me, when I'm writing I'm in the zone and worrying about word count just gets in my way creatively. Self editing is not allowed in a first draft (for me). My first drafts are always super long. Then I let it sit for a while and then I write the query. The query focuses me in on what is important to the story I want to tell. Then I write the synopsis. THEN I start editing. By the time I do the synopsis (which, by the way, is never the final synopsis because so much changes in editing) I see that some of the places my mind veered off to ended up as dead ends to the actual story I was telling. I usually have three rounds of edits before I even go to Beta readers and many, many more afterwards.

As an example, my latest book started out at 101K. First round edits got it down to about 60K to go to Beta readers, with a lot of the lost words because I moved the ending up. After 3 rounds of Beta readers with edits in between and 2 more rounds of edits afterwards to clean it up, I landed at around 68K with a more succinct version of my story that I happen to really love.

Oh, one more thing, if you're like me, you may love those parts that need to get cut. I have two files that I put cut text in with notes for myself. One file is for a potential sequel. I can always see my characters' futures so if I feel like the ending drags I just pull all of that text into what could one day end up as the start of the sequel. Anything else specific to characters, like back stories that get cut, go into that sequel file. The other file is my random book ideas file. Sometimes what was a side thought one of my characters had (I end up cutting a lot of exposition) can be the perfect start for a different story. Theoretically. I've yet to reuse anything, but in the slashing and burning first round edits it makes me feel better that I'm preserving that bit of genius for a higher purpose.

Ok, I won't talk your ear off.  :haha  Best of luck in the writing and editing!!! Chatty girls unite! lol. Seriously though, my advice is to listen to your muse now and shut her up later (see I could've cut my whole message and just left that last sentence).  :goodluck
#2 - July 16, 2013, 12:18 PM

What kind of book is it? Some lend themselves to longer word count. If it's a contemporary MG, that's probably too long. If it's a historical fantasy YA, you might be close. ;)
#3 - July 16, 2013, 12:41 PM

Some of us have imaginations that work to a certain length. At least, my books all tend to start out around the same word count as each other when the first draft is done and end at about the same word count after revisions. A few questions:

1. Has the feedback from editors been that the books are too long, and that's why they are passing?
2. Has your agent told you that they are too long?

If no on both of these things, then I'm not sure length is truly an issue for you.

That said, if you want to make your books shorter, here are some possibilities:

1. Examine each and every word in every sentence. I am almost embarrassed to admit that the BIGGEST reason my books shrink by 10,000 words after a first draft is because I have culled all the unnecessary words and phrases.
2. Examine your subplots. Can you cut one?
3. Examine each scene: Is it serving at least double-duty, plot-wise? Or do you have many scenes that serve only one aspect of your story and plot? Try to make your scenes work twice, to three times as hard.
4. Examine each scene: Is it necessary to the story or do you just like it?
5. Do you have a lag in the middle of the book? (I often do) Can scenes be combined or cut to pick up the pace?
#4 - July 16, 2013, 02:28 PM

Thank you, BlueBoarders!

HDWestund, these are great suggestions for the late stage edits: I will definitely try these. My agent has not said the novels are too long, but he hasn't passed along many editor comments.

And you're right, MysteryRobin: I work on YA fantasy, so -- whew!-- my epics are allowed a little more space. But I'm still wigged out that I never end up writing the story that I PLANNED to write. It's like space aliens come down and possess it, abduct my original story arc, and leave me with this other pod to develop. Yeeesh!

I peeked at your response soon after you wrote it, Adia, and, instead of immediately thanking you, I was struck by your idea about writing the query and synopsis. So I did that: I wrote the query. It was like a beautiful explosion of fireworks: a clear idea about my conclusion sparked in my mind and I went off and typed the fastest 25 pages ever. So now I can doubly thank you, for both the response and for my 25 pages, an ending to my story that I LOVE.  Hee.

#5 - July 19, 2013, 08:03 AM

Tamilyn, I am so glad the query letter helped. That really is a good idea, and I may have to do that myself the next time I am stuck for an ending. A few months ago my agent asked me to write a synopsis for "book 2" in my fantasy trilogy so that she can show it to editors while trying to sell book one. It was really, really hard to do, and it took me scrawling pages and pages of notes and questions for myself as well as crafting a few potential beginnings. But I am actually really excited about working on the next book now because my one page synopsis gave me all the plot highpoints ahead of time--although I gave myself lots of wiggle room for how to get there, because I'm not someone who does well with too many guidelines. I like to write to find out what the story is. But I am also glad to have a clear ending proposed for the middle book in the trilogy, because too many middle books simply stretch between book one and book three without having a true story of their own.

Anyway, those synopses and queries can really help. Excellent suggestion, Adia.
#6 - July 19, 2013, 09:04 AM

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I had to cut back on my manuscript, too. What helped for me was to literally cut every unnecessary word. I was shocked that I took out 5k! That's a lot of useless words or sentences here and there. I also really thought out each scene. Was it absolutely necessary? Did it significantly move the plot forward? If not, I axed it. I think it helped make the story a faster pace and an easier read for the reader. I understand though how it's hard to delete words that you get attached to!
#7 - July 19, 2013, 06:01 PM
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Twitter @ChristinaFarley

I have the opposite problem. I tend to write bare bones at first, and then need to flesh things out more.
Still, I love to cut. It's like pruning roses or something. It gives me a sort of high to axe unnecessary words.
I know you're not to this stage yet, but when you're on the last stage of editing,
I found this post by Janice Hardy helpful:
It's a list of those unnecessary words like Christy talked about.
Sounds like you've gotten some great ideas! I like what you said about the query.
#8 - July 19, 2013, 08:26 PM

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Austen- what a great list! Thanks for sharing!
#9 - July 20, 2013, 05:26 AM
The GILDED series (Skyscape/ACP)
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Thank you for the link, Austen!
#10 - July 20, 2013, 05:32 AM

Glad that I helped! :)

Austen, that is a great post. I'm bookmarking it!
#11 - July 21, 2013, 06:49 PM

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Like Austen, my first drafts are light, and then I add words in revisions.  I usually add 10-15K words, but this revision is only 75% done and I just crossed the 85K word mark, which is my "limit" for this project.  So I'll have to cut on the next go-round.  These tips are all great! 
#12 - July 21, 2013, 08:10 PM
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I tend to write big and have to cut, too. One thing that has helped me is to write down each thing that actually happens (and each character who makes it happen) in each chapter of the book. Then I read over just that and see what scenes might be unnecessary, which characters seem to be duplicating the same efforts, and which scenes could be reordered or combined to distill them more. I try to look at my story like a scriptwriter might come to a novel s/he's adapting for the screen, and see how to keep the same story but make it more condensed. It's hard on the brain, but it helps the word count!
#13 - July 21, 2013, 09:01 PM


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