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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Marilyn Meredith a.k.a. F. M. Meredith said...

I am on the opposite side of the spectrum, writing too short.

authorlindathorne said...

I think short might be easier to work with. I actually forgot I posted this until now. I was that busy at work yesterday. Thanks Marilyn for stopping by.

Morgan Mandel said...

I'm like Marilyn. I always need to find ways to get a larger word count out of my brain somehow! I blame it on taking Journalism class years ago. lol

authorlindathorne said...

Thank you for sharing, Morgan. I wish that was the case for me. Thank you.

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Saralyn said...

I also enjoyed Susan Isaacs' Lily White (and all of her other books, too). Stephen King devotes a chapter of On Writing to how to cut your manuscript. He's famous for eliminating adverbs and adjectives in favor of strong verbs and nouns, but he also explains how to boost quality by cutting quantity. Thanks for writing about this important topic, Linda.

authorlindathorne said...

Saralyn, I had no idea you'd read Lily White too. I also loved her book, After All These Years. You must read a lot.

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