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Lowering the word count on my manuscript?

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Old 08-20-2014, 10:39 AM
la_polilla (Offline)
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Default Lowering the word count on my manuscript?


I have a manuscript for a paranormal y.a thriller that's 98,760 words and I've heard the limit you should have for a first time novel is 100,000. With how high the word count already is, I worry that I don't have a lot of room to edit for fear of going over. At the same time, I worry about removing too much to keep the word limit down at the expense of developing the story. What should I do? If I have to remove more, are there tips to how to shave words off?

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Old 08-20-2014, 10:56 AM
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My first publisled psych thriller was 120k. It just depends on the publisher.

I'd finish the novel first, shelve it if for a day or two, then go back and read through. Trust your instnct: if you think 'this bit's boring me a touch', then it will be the same for your reader too.

The worst I find is lack of filtreing. And that's a simple, instead of:

He saw the car turn the corner...

Filter out the 'He saw' to sharpen it up:

The car turned the corner.

Watch for repeated words, phrases, and structures that do nothing for the text. Sometime repeteion can work well:

He came; he saw; he pinched a packet of nuts....

But if you have a run of he-led sentences clustered together it can give a very shopping-list feel.

There's loads to watch out for, to be honest, when it comes to editing: whether a chapter needs to be cut because itadds nothing to the novel. If characters need to to say or go because they've not been given enough depth. If plot lines are too thinned out they need deleting as superfluous material....

Most of it comes down to 'nah, that's not working'. Trust that part of your instinct.

Then when that's all done, pass it over a beta reader for a read and listen to what they're saying.
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Last edited by Whiskers; 08-20-2014 at 12:55 PM..
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Old 08-20-2014, 11:02 AM
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That is pretty long for a YA from an unknown writer. Whisker's suggestions are pretty good. Maybe you also have a few dialogue tags you can trim, if it is clear who is talking.
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Old 08-20-2014, 11:23 AM
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What stage are you at with this? Am I right in assuming you haven't edited it yet? If so, I'd say put it away for a good few weeks at least. When you go back to it you'll probably want to cut lots of material. It's much easier to tighten up the writing at the revision stage.

I'd recommend Self Editing for Fiction Writers by Browne & King.

Of course it's always possible you end up with a longer book at the end of editing. Some stories just need to be long. But if the writing is good enough it won't matter.
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Old 08-20-2014, 09:46 PM
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I truly don't think you should be worrying about the word count at this stage my friend. Insodoing you are interrupting your creative process, putting a halt on your flow.

One of the worst things Microsoft added to Word was the word number indicator on the bottom left. Ever since then I think we have lost a good few novels by their authors becoming similarly worried when they approach a numeric milestone while in flow. Often it's not possible, or can be difficult, to find that flow again.

Think of writing in three stages (a bit like making a film): 1. Pre-production, 2. Production, and 3. Post-production.

Pre-production is planning. Production is writing. And post-production is editing.

Don't think about editing when you are writing, it'll stifle the whole process.
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Old 08-21-2014, 03:27 AM
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As others have already pointed out, you are a long way from worrying about word count right now and, yes, if you are not yet finished with it and you are closing on 100k for a YA, you are probably running long. But, it is the story that is most important. If it is an attention grabber and it grabs the right agent then you are golden.

One other thing kind of caught my eye, however:

Originally Posted by la_polilla View Post
...I worry that I don't have a lot of room to edit for fear of going over. At the same time, I worry about removing too much to keep the word limit down at the expense of developing the story.
This kind of leads me to believe that you are of a mindset that "editing" means "adding" and that simply is not so. Quite often, a good edit will find you cutting a word here, a couple words there, here a sentence, there a paragraph... massive passages when called for. It's about making sure that you didn't use 'than' when you should have used 'then' and vice-versa. It's making sure 'ennui' is the word you really mean to use or would a simpler, more direct synonym work better.

First draft is getting the story on paper, no worries about getting it all 100% correct.
The first edit is to grind off the rough edges and corners.
Final edits are the buffing stone that smooths your gem to a polished shine.
All of that does not need to happen in a matter of days, or months. Take your time to get it right. So, as a couple of others already suggested, finish it, put it away for a while and focus on something else. Then, when you can look at it with a fresh eye, go back and see what needs added, eliminated, changed, tweaked. (And, don't worry if you find yourself going through this step more than once.)

Good luck.
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Old 08-21-2014, 04:59 AM
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If you write to a word count, you end up with crap. Your novel takes as many words as it takes.
That is not to say, "Don't sharpen your work." To the contrary. If a word, sentence, paragraph, page, or chapter should be added, add them.
People! Please! I have been writing for 35 years. Do not start writing to a formula or you will fail, in the long run. It may sell a piece today that will be forgotten tomorrow.
Remember: your name is on that MS. What kind of connection do you wish for others to make?
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Old 08-21-2014, 01:15 PM
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But Seedy, if you can effectively keep it at a length that makes it easier to sell, that's not a bad thing. Many writers need to trim their work down after a first draft. That's not writing to a formula. That's just one way of editing.
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Old 08-22-2014, 04:34 AM
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Originally Posted by Seedy M. View Post
If you write to a word count, you end up with crap. Your novel takes as many words as it takes.
That is not to say, "Don't sharpen your work." To the contrary. If a word, sentence, paragraph, page, or chapter should be added, add them.
People! Please! I have been writing for 35 years. Do not start writing to a formula or you will fail, in the long run. It may sell a piece today that will be forgotten tomorrow.
Remember: your name is on that MS. What kind of connection do you wish for others to make?
Then again, I used to think like this, with my current novel (which at its biggest was 140k). Then i left it for a few months, came back to it, and realised I could easily cut 30-40k just from slimming the prose.

There's always boring bits you can cut, you just need to be subjective, something which is really hard on your own work.
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Old 08-30-2014, 01:54 PM
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Originally Posted by Seedy M. View Post
If you write to a word count, you end up with crap. Your novel takes as many words as it takes.
That is not to say, "Don't sharpen your work." To the contrary. If a word, sentence, paragraph, page, or chapter should be added, add them.
People! Please! I have been writing for 35 years. Do not start writing to a formula or you will fail, in the long run. It may sell a piece today that will be forgotten tomorrow.
Remember: your name is on that MS. What kind of connection do you wish for others to make?
This is the truth.
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