Tips for Meeting Your Target Word Count
By Missy Tippens
How many of you have had trouble meeting your target word count on a project? Have you typed The End and found you’ve come out way too short? Or have you finished the story and realized you needed to cut 10,000 words?
I’ve actually done both. And neither is fun.
On my first several books for Love Inspired (the target for a contemporary LI is 55-60,000 words by computer word count), my first drafts came in long. Anywhere from a couple of thousand words over to nearly 20,000 over (I had been targeting a single title line that Harlequin had closed).
When you’re talking about cutting 20k words, you have to take drastic measures. In my case, I made the cuts before I made my first sale. The editor said I basically had two endings so to cut one. :) Um, yeah, I hope I’ve improved since then! She also had me cut out a good bit of one subplot. Both those changes cut a large chunk of extra words. From there I made lots of smaller changes that helped whittle down the words.
Tips for Making Large Cuts in Word Count
--Cut subplots that may not be needed.
--Cut secondary characters you may not need (combine characters to allow one character to do more).
--Cut scenes that don’t pull their weight. Make sure the pov character has a goal for that scene that ties in to the story length goal and that he is pursuing it. If nothing changes, no matter how fun or sweet or thrilling it is, then cut the scene.
--Don’t drag out the ending. No matter how much you love your characters, you eventually do have to tell them goodbye. :)
|photo credit: Crestock/yuriz|
Tips for Making Small Cuts in Word Count
--Do a word search and cut your pet words. It’s always fun for me to see how many times I cut the word “just” out of my manuscripts. :) Make a list of your pet words, keep it on your computer, and print a copy each time you edit a manuscript. Also add to that list any other problems you need to check for. Then search and destroy. Ask your critique partner to help you create a list.
--Cut descriptions you don’t need. Make sure the descriptions you keep do more work, such as showing emotion.
--“Don’t walk the dog” (as Janet Dean tells me when reading some of my scenes). You don’t have to include every step a character takes. On one manuscript, Janet suggested I cut the hero getting the baby ready to leave the house, making the decision to buy lunch for the heroine, then going to buy sandwiches. She suggested I open with him showing up at the heroine’s office with the bag in hand. The scene now works so much better (thanks, Janet!).
--Don’t start scenes like a dated journal. Jump right into the action, anchoring the reader with action and dialogue.
--As a last resort, I do what Mary Connealy once suggested. Divide the number of words you need to cut by the total number of pages. That will give you the number of words per page to cut. Need to cut 2000 words from a 250 page book? Just cut 8 words per page, which shouldn’t be too hard.
|photo credit: Crestock/Feverpitched|
After a few years of writing books that kept turning out long, thinking that was the very worst thing that could happen, I experienced my first manuscript draft that ended up too short. And then I decided that was the very worst thing that could happen. :)
In fact, when I finished the first draft of my most recent manuscript (turned in the end of June, hallelujah!), it was 48,000 words! Remember, it’s supposed to be 55k. OUCH.
Now, typically, my first drafts grow about 2000 words as I do second and third drafts. So coming in a little short is good for me. But 7000 words short? NOT GOOD.
So, I started through the process of revising. It grew some before I sent it off for critique, but it was still short. As I finished making changes after the critiques, I went over the 55k mark. Relief!
|Photo credit: Crestock/MasterofAll686|
Here are some ways I learned I can fill in and lengthen a manuscript…
Tips for Increasing Word Count
--Make sure to describe each new character as he/she comes on stage. Just keep in mind that descriptions are often better done by another character (the hero describing the heroine instead of the heroine looking in a mirror or thinking of her own description).
--Do a read-through looking for flow. Do scenes seem to be missing? Maybe you skipped a scene you thought might not be necessary but realized on reading that it’s actually needed. Add it.
--Add the difficult-to-write scenes. Sometimes I’ve summarized a painful scene thinking it doesn’t need to be on screen. But consider including it (as long as it’s appropriate for your target readers). Does the hero need to have that painful discussion with his father about his mother’s death? Does the heroine need to tell the hero about giving up her baby for adoption? Don’t shy away from it. Add it.
--Layer, layer, layer. My first drafts are typically talking heads (although I’m getting better at filling in as I go). I won’t go into this deeply because we’ve had many great posts on layering here in Seekerville. Recently, Glynna Kaye did a 3-part series on layering. Here’s a link to several of those posts: click here.
--Show, don’t tell. We’ve always heard this. But one benefit is that it often increases word count. Instead of telling that Betty was sad and avoided the grief by sleeping all the time, show Betty walking into a quiet room, looking at her deceased husband’s empty recliner, then immediately avoiding that room by heading to bed early, trying to focus on a book but re-reading a page for the fourth time.
--Have you brought all plot threads through the whole story? Tie up any loose ends.
--Make sure the story comes full circle. Show how the characters have changed and earned their happy ending.
--Consider adding an epilogue.
I hope this was helpful! I’d love to hear your experiences with writing short or long. Can you add any tips?
I’ll be giving away IOU’s (should arrive sometime in August) for FIVE copies of my upcoming book from Love Inspired. The Guy Next Door is available for pre-order now! I’m really excited about this book. I had so much fun writing it! Please LET ME KNOW in the comments if you’d like to be entered.
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