Friday, September 18, 2020

Hacking Away At Your Word Count



by Linda Thorne

If you’re an author who has ever entered a writing contest, you’ve been subjected to maximum word count requirements. I found this to be the norm in contests asking for part or all of a work-in-progress novel and in every short story contest I ever entered.

It’s amazing how you can reduce those words. I’ve managed to take a 3500 word short story and reduce it to 1000 while still keeping the story line.

My first book, Just Another Termination,started off at 120,000 words. It was awful. So much needed cut. I took out a couple of non-essential characters and their roles, but there was a more fat to trim. I had way too much detail regarding how some events came about. I described how my character and her husband moved from LA to the Mississippi Gulf Coast and gave way too many details. Boring. When I finally published my book it was down to 80,000 words. 

I published this post somewhere three years ago. I'm not sure whether it was here on Make Mine Mystery or on Novel Spaces. I'm bringing it back re-written a little differently. 

I’ve heard that the current preferred length for mystery, thrillers, and romance is 70,000 to 90,000 words; although I personally consider 90,000 high, and 75,000 to 80,000 a better word count.

Things I’ve done to reduce word count:

Drop one of the subplots. I had too many in the first draft.

Get rid of a few characters. I had to do that with a couple of characters in Just Another Termination and hated it. I may have one too many in my current work-in-progress, A Promotion to Die For. I don’t know yet.

I know you are supposed to take out back story in the beginning and trickle it throughout. This has been hard in A Promotion to Die For, as so much back story is needed for a murder 30 years in my character's past. Critically acclaimed New York Times bestselling author Susan Isaacs wrote a book called, Lily White, where each chapter was either in the present time or in the past. The past chapters were in italics and the present ones in regular font until both stories met toward the end. I enjoyed this. In A Promotion to Die For I only have a few chapters that are written in back story. The people and occurrences in that history from three decades earlier surface soon in the present and the old cold case murder from back then is solved toward the end of the book in its current timeline.

Eliminate repeats. I can’t tell you how many times I can say the same thing in writing over and over. The reader gets it the first time. I’m not sure about other authors, but I find myself telling it to them again in a different way. This has to end and I usually get rid of it during the revision process.

No rambling over things you want to get in because of your beliefs. This is not about the author, but about giving the reader something interesting to read.

I’m interested in your experiences as authors and/or readers in words working without being too wordy.

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Wednesday, September 16, 2020

The Rabbit Hole Seduction

                                     by Janis Patterson

No matter what we write, we’ve all been there. We’re writing along happily, the scene is working, the tension is building, our characters are behaving the way we want them to for once and - boom! - suddenly you need a tiny little fact without which nothing works.

Sometimes you can skip over it and finish the scene, vowing to go back and fact-check later (and sometimes you forget, for which fans will inevitably ding you) but often if the action is to proceed as you want it to you need an answer, as it might change the action.

In a way research was simpler before the internet. A trip to the library or the encyclopaedia if you were fortunate enough to own one, or a phone call to some authority, and you felt safe. You had done your due diligence and could feel fairly secure that you knew more about whatever it was than the majority of readers.

It’s different nowadays. Everyone has access to the internet, and let’s face it, a lot of information on the internet is confusing, contradictory and sometimes just plain not true. What’s a curious writer to do?

Research, research and more research. Some things are pretty immutable and easy to find out - the date of a battle, for example, or the reaction between two common chemicals. It gets a bit dicey, however, when you get into more esoteric stuff, for example, when did metal-spring hoop skirts become indispensable to ladies’ fashions? It’s fairly easy to find out the date of their first release (England, 1855 is the best date I can find) but when did they cross the pond to become available to Southern belles? What was a common recipe for home-made ink during the 1860s? And my own personal bĂȘte noir, did the 1916 Jordan Sport Marine automobile have a self-starter or were they only available with the old-fashioned and very dangerous crank? (Aeons of research have never yielded a definitive answer, so like my betters I have taken refuge in weasel words, saying that my heroine’s machine is an ‘experimental model.’ However, once the book is released I fatalistically await some reader to excoriate me for not having the correct answer. Sigh.)

I am beginning to appreciate why so many writers are now choosing to do urban fantasy, pure fantasy, science fiction, etc. Their world, their rules.

There are two main problems with research - one is that it takes time from writing, but this can be countered with the absolute necessity for at least believable accuracy. And yes, accuracy is important. I point to a Regency romance in a contest I once judged where the hero reaches into his pocket and pulls out a fountain pen, which although primitive ones were first patented in the 1830s were not commercially available until the 1850s, some thirty years after the Regency. When I counted this faux pas against the writer that absolutely furious young woman wrote me back, demanding to know why, especially since it was an old fashioned pen and who would know the difference anyway? Double sigh.

The second problem with research is its seductivity. You flip over to the internet to find out the date (say) whalebone was first used in corsets or the chemical formula for gunpowder and three hours later you are engrossed in reading the life cycle of the water nymph (dragonfly larvae) without really knowing how you got there, since neither dragonflies nor nymphs (insect or mythological) have anything to do with your story. Seductive, indeed!

Unfortunately, there is no cure that I know of for such a predilection to wander off into the arcane pathways of interlocking knowledge. After years of trying to discipline myself I have given up and allowed my mind to dive down the rabbit hole and follow the seductive lure of unknown fields. At least, for a while. You never know when you might find a nugget of knowledge that will enhance your story, or even give you a new one. (Yeah, like we really need new story ideas to add to the 200+ year stockpile we already have, right?) Besides, it’s inevitable. There is just too much fascinating information out there. We’re doomed.

(And I apologize for any weirdnesses in formatting - this new Blogger upload interface and I are not getting along well together! I don't see why companies insist on changing things for the worse!)

Tuesday, September 15, 2020


 That's the status of where we are at the moment. The Sequoia Complex fire (or something like that) is just above Springville where I live--but encompasses many, many acres. Some of the homes and cabins in the upper mountains have already been lost, including a popular pack station. 

The air is full of smoke and has been for days. Many of my friends not far from here had a mandatory evacuation, and were forced to leave. Lots of animals have been transferred to safe places down in the valley.

We received our Voluntary Evacuation notice via our phone, cell and landline about 9:30 Sunday a.m. On Monday I began gathering important papers, meds, things I didn't want to lose. A line of bags is sitting on the big table in my office.

The bad things about packing this stuff is I have to keep getting things out that I need.

This is the second fire that's come close to our home since we've lived here. Three years ago we had the Pier Fire and hubby and I packed the important stuff and stayed with friends in Porterville for 3 days. That fire was different, fierce but smaller acreage wise. We could also see the flames, which we can't with this one because the smoke is so thick.

Where will we go if we have to leave? I'm not sure. Several people have offered for us to come to their homes, but if we really have to go, it will probably be to one of our kids'.

I've written about fires many times in my mysteries, but believe me, it's far scarier when it's happening to you.

We're praying for the firefighters and for the fire to be contained. There are so many fires in the state as well as in Oregon and Washington that there really aren't enough firefighters and they are having to work too many hours.

My writing is not happening right now, not because of the fire but because of other things I need to do.

I'll keep you posted.