Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Word Length – Cut, Cut, Cut

I’ve had more than one freelance editor go over my manuscript for The War of the Worlds and Fairies, but the more recent once gave me some inside baseball on word length. But first, let’s go over the starting figures.

At science fiction conventions and writers conventions, I’ve been told that adult fiction should be between 80,000 and 120,000 words, depending on the genre. My manuscript came out at 121,000 words. So before I let this editor see it, I cut 2,000 words from the first three chapters. (This isn’t as radical as it sounds—for some reason, I had people just standing around too much). You know how those studies show that if one product is offered for $100.00, and the same thing is offered for $99.99, people think the second one is a much better deal? I was hoping that 119,000 would look a lot better than 121,000.

Public domain

Well, it didn’t. This editor let me know that publishers have contracts with bookbinders that actually include a page limit. In practical terms, a novel from a new writer needs to be less than 100,000 words. It takes extra money to go beyond that, which they will for an established writer. We all know they sometimes do that for a new writer who has written something brilliant, but the odds are against you being the one.  

She pointed out chapters totaling 27,000 words that could be cut. She didn’t think they were bad—they were chapters with another group of characters battling the Martian invaders elsewhere, outside England. I was kind of afraid she would say that. But it was the logical choice. I followed her advice and cut them.

(Never get rid of material like that. Those chapters are set aside for a sequel.)

She also pointed out I had to emphasize a minor character more. I had assumed ahead of time that would be good news for a writer: write more. But this was extremely difficult. I had to insert scenes that not only fit into the timeline for this current work, but also the timeline for the sequel.

(The timeline was so complicated, I used an Excel spreadsheet for the first time while writing a novel. See my entry here.)

So I cut more words and added the new scenes The current word count is about 93,800.

And that’s how it’s done.

Since you’ve patiently read this far, here’s a sample. Ashley and her friend Violet assume the invading Martians will be easily defeated. Oh, I was also advised to make each chapter ending a cliffhanger. How’d I do?

Immediately after that was more firing, obviously from the artillery.
“They’ve started!” Violet hopped up in delight. “They’ve started firing. But Oriental College is in the way. Let’s go up on the roof to watch.”
“NO.” I grabbed her arm with both hands—too hard, since she made a gesture to bat me away, and only just stopped short. I don’t know why I had such a terror, since we were in Maybury and not anywhere near the fighting, but I clung to her. “Don’t go on the roof! And not toward the study window, either.”
“All right, but I’m not such a delicate flower.” My pixie friend counted out on her fingers. “We didn’t see any Martian bodies at the pit. We can’t go up on the roof and watch them get shelled. We probably won’t get to watch when the scholars dissect their—”
A crash cut off her words. It rattled our windows and the dishes in the kitchen. It shook the floor beneath my feet, and judging from how Violet’s dark eyes widened, she felt it too. Clutching at each other, we rushed out onto the lawn.

The dome of Oriental College was collapsing. 


Stephanie Faris said...

It's funny, but I've never had a problem with my manuscripts being too long. I tend to be brief, I guess!

Lynda R Young said...

Ha, great cliffhanger. Maybe with the dome gone, they'll have a better view ;)
Cutting long stories can be difficult at times, but often so much better for the story.


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