Word Count

I’m starting with excessive word counts, because that’s what was bugging me tonight.

I was pleased to discover I’m not the only one who is reluctant to read anything over 100k. My comment on twitter was that you just don’t find published romances (and most twific is romance)  of this length. I have a short attention span. The folder full of incomplete WIP’s on my hard drive will attest to this fact. The half read fanfictions in my kindle folder (I have kindle for PC) will also prove that I don’t have the stamina for epic works.

Unless they are so incredibly gripping and consuming that I will read until 4 in the morning. But we’ll get to that in another post.

So. 100k. Not so very shocking, really. Twilight is what? 120k? Ballpark. That’s a fairly long book for it’s genre and the fact that it was SM’s first novel.  But…Steph, love her or whatever…she’s wordy. A published author who will remain nameless said after reading The Host that she could have written the same story in half the pages.

What I don’t get is why there are fanfictions based on the Twilight universe that run to hundreds of thousands of words.

Gonna push the disbelief aside and try to be constructive. I can think of a ton of reasons why these stories might be so incredibly long. In some cases, these could be epic things that might have worked well as a series. So, finish one story, wrap it up nicely, start the sequel. How about that? Maybe it’s hard for some writers to get to that wrapping up point? I know that when I’m writing, I’m striving for that ending. I don’t outline, so I don’t necessarily know how I’m going to get there, but that’s my goal and I try to make sure that every scene I write is helping.

If it’s not helping you in some way to get to that ending, it’s just filler.

It’s hard, I know, writing serially. You might be stuck in a corner, something happened in chapter 7 that means you can’t do that thing you want to do now. It’s set in stone, it’s been read, and you’d be contradicting yourself if you changed it in this chapter. That can get you stuck. You can’t think how on earth to get around it, and you’ve promised a chapter by the end of the week, and so you throw in a scene about what Bella had for breakfast (for example) or some gratuitous sex.

Screw your posting schedule, I say. I’m quite happy to wait for a chapter of a good story, where that chapter actually takes me somewhere. But to read a chapter, a long chapter, where the characters neither learn anything, or change, or go anywhere…sex is great, but I want to know that I’m that little bit closer to The End. A resolution. Holy shit, I’m gonna say it: Happily Ever After (or if appropriate, Happy for Now).

As a non-outliner, I prefer to finish writing a story before posting chapter one. It’s not what I exclusively do, but I prefer it. It gives me the chance to look the story over as a whole, yank those scenes that go nowhere, shift stuff around to make more sense, put a little foreshadow in chapter 2 for something that’s gonna happen in chapter 7. Of course my faulty attention span also means that I have exactly one multi chapter story publicly posted in which I’ve been able to do that. And it’s short. It’s short for a reason. I started writing with the intention of writing a novella length fic. So the whole way I was thinking, does this need to be in here? Where am I going? When I got there, I could look at the story as a whole and see what I didn’t need, I could see what was missing. So I yanked some scenes, and I added a scene or two, and rewrote some stuff…

My first draft was somewhere around the 30k mark. The final is 27k. I got rid of everything I didn’t need.

Okay, enough talking about myself (I look like a pillock, don’t I?).

I’ve seen fics that should have ended long before they did. The bad guy was thwarted, the boy rescues the girl (or boy), the two lovers reconcile, or even they have that perfect ending right there….and yet the writer continues.

As a reader, there is nothing worse than having that perfect happy ending, right there in front of you, only to have it yanked out from beneath your feet for the sake of drama and keeping the story going. Tangenting again, woops (good thing this isn’t a fanfiction, huh).  I think what I’m getting at is that some stories need to end far sooner than they do. If there’s more you want to tell about those characters, wrap up the story, and start a sequel. Please.

I’m currently writing a multi-chap that is chock full of porn (suddenly glad this blog isn’t search-engine-able). I’m terrified that most of it is gratuitous sex. PWP is great, if that’s what it’s meant to be. This isn’t. And 25k in, there’s tons of porn, and I’m not getting far with my actual plot. I’m halfway to 50k, which I don’t want to go over, yet I’m getting nowhere. Smut takes up a TON of word count. If I got rid of all the sex, I’d probably have 10k, maybe 15. Sex should have subtext, they need a reason to fuck. It should be essential to the story, should develop or show something about the characters. This stuff can stay.  If there’s nothing beneath the sex, it’s PWP and can happily be cut (make a great outtake). I’m not gonna get rid of all of it, but some can be taken out and re-used later in the story.

I can also go back into the earlier chapters and start foreshadowing and setting in motion the things that need to happen to move the plot along.

I’m being a pillock again. Okay, I was just using myself as an example, because I know why my characters keep having sex. It’s because I don’t know where I’m going, or I’m stalling, because I do know but I don’t know how to get them there. Sex is easy, and readers like it. But it’s not getting my story to go anywhere.

Of course, I have the option of going back and inserting plot. Or moving the sex to later in the story. If you’re writing and posting serially, that’s not so easy. I don’t usually condone outlining, I don’t do it myself because it hinders my creativity (god that sounds pretentious) when I follow it or it’s just a fat waste of time when I don’t. But if you find yourself not knowing where you’re going and you don’t have a goal…yeah. Cripes, you need to have a goal. When you sit down to write a chapter, when you finish the chapter, something real and useful and plot-moving has to have happened. Otherwise…filler.

I’ve flounced a few fics lately for non-moving plots, and not just because they were full of sex. Generally because I felt that the story was going in circles. If I can’t see an ending in sight, and the story is already past 100k, goodbye. Sorry.

Long chapters (and really long one-shots) wig me. 10k chapters sit in my inbox for sometimes weeks before I read them because I don’t have time to relax and enjoy. If they pile up, I tend to flounce.  This can say something about what I’ve experienced before with the flow of the story. If I don’t leap on it as soon as it enters my inbox, its fairly indicative of there being a lot of filler. If my experience of your story is a quickly moving, compelling plot, I’ll make time, dammit. When writing a chapter, perhaps try having a goal for that chapter, one that moves the plot along a decent amount. How about setting yourself a word count limit for that chapter and making sure you achieve that goal within it? Look at Twilight. 120k give or take. 24 chapters, ignoring pro&epilogue. 5k per chapter. Much more palatable. It’ll force you to skip Bella’s breakfast, and that’s gotta be good.

Repetition. I suppose we learned from the master. How many times do we have to hear about how Greek God-like Edward is? Yeah, well. Once we know what a character looks like, we don’t need to hear about his verdant green eyes again, at least for a while. My biggest issue with repetition is the ‘same scene/chapter in an alternate POV’ thing. Oh god, so boring. Sorry. I know the other character has different thoughts and feelings and stuff. It doesn’t matter. You’re still repeating yourself. And again, we’re just doing what she did, but Edward was so much cooler than Bella ;) Please don’t write your entire 100k+ story in the other guys POV. I won’t read it, no matter what insights and hidden information he had. If it was that important, it should have come out in the first story.

We’re getting down to the nitty gritty. Line edits. After I do my looking at the story and the extraneous scenes and the shuffling around of stuff and have my story sorted, I do between 3 and a million read-throughs. On the first one, I aim to remove 10% of my word count. It’s not that hard. On each pass, I remove less and less, until finally I’m just reading. At the same time, I’m shuffling sentences around to make the words flow better, to make more sence.

That. Its a word that I take out a lot. Most of the time you don’t need it. There’s a lot of words like that, depending on context. Everyone’s got their own guilty parties. Mine is ‘and then’. OMG. It’s so pervasive in my writing that I do a search on my finished first draft and remove one or the other of those two words, in some cases both of them. And there’s another one. ;) Then there’s but and because. There’s all sorts of fun things you can do with punctuation (but I won’t get into that; I suck at commas and semi-colons).

Use contractions! Sure, it is it’s only going to help the technical word count, but it makes it so hard to read if you do not don’t use them when you should. Especially in dialogue.

Bugger. Here I am whinging about excessive word counts, and I’ve rambled on for over 1800 words. And I don’t know if I’ve got it all. So I’m gonna wrap up anyway, with a tidy little bullet list of the stuff I suggest you do to reduce your word count and make it more likely that I’m* gonna read your fic.

  • Set a maximum word count goal.
  • Bigger is not better.
  • Set plot goals.
  • Every scene should move the plot along.
  • Sex? Again? What’s the subtext?
  • Line edit. Line edit again.

*Because I’m the centre of the universe, don’t you know ;)

Disclaimer: I’m not an expert! I’m merely an opinionated tart with no attention span. And a pillock ;)


3 responses to “Word Count

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