Thursday, January 5, 2017

Why You Should KILL Your Word Count

Many writers, myself included, get hung up on the word count of their stories. A full length novel is described as being around 80,000 words. So, that becomes the goal - putting 80,000 words on a page. But if you don't write 80,000 words of QUALITY CONTENT, then what you've really got is 60,000 words with 20,000 words of filler.

No one wants filler. Filler is the mystery meat in a hot dog. Filler is episode 14 of your favorite TV show where nothing from episode 13 is even mentioned. Filler is the vanilla in a Neapolitan ice cream when all you want is the chocolate and strawberry. Filler is bad. All it does is take up space.

A novel that is 60,000 words, without the filler is better than one that's 80,000 and jam-packed with mystery meat and useless vanilla ice cream. So how can you cut the fat?

1. Cut Dead Words: Words like very, just, then, up, down, really, very, ect... - If the sentence makes sense without it, then it doesn't need to be there. Cutting out dead words makes your writing more concise and allows your sentences to be more powerful. Aim for short, meaningful sentences.

2. Don't Filter Actions through Your Characters: This is common in third person narratives, but happens in first person stories as well. Don't say "Anita heard the loud boom of the fireworks," Say "The fireworks boomed in the sky." Not only will you use less words, but your scenes will be more powerful. Filtering should only be used when the author wants to shift POV to another character.

3. Stay Away from Purple Prose: Don't over-describe things, and don't describe unnecessary things. Descriptions that get too detailed can pull a reader out of the story. I don't want to read ten lines describing your character's outfit. Unless Sally's red dress is important to the plot you don't need to describe it at all.

4. Cut Your First Chapter: Maybe even the second one as well. It's common when starting a novel to write a lot of backstory - even unintentionally, at the very beginning. Does your book start with something mundane, like your character walking down the street or driving to work? Do you spend a few chapters introducing characters? Then slice and dice. Kill your darlings, forget your word count and be honest with yourself about where your novel really begins. You can sprinkle any important information throughout your story later on.

5. Cut Unnecessary Scenes: When you read over your novel think about each scene as you read it. Is that scene necessary for the story? Does it progress the plot or reveal something about one of your characters? If your story makes sense without it, then it has to go. Some scenes may be able to be combined together, while others should just be cut completely.

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