Saturday, November 14, 2015

Word Counts Gone Wild

by Jean Kavich Bloom

Especially if you publish or hope to publish traditionally, you probably already know word counts should be kept in check. Oh, I have edited some novels that were well over the typical length, but I also know those authors’ appeal and sales had to be “worth” the extra paper in print and the higher price point for the consumer. 

So how do you pare down your word count without losing what’s essential to your style, your voice, and your story? We know about ridding manuscripts of unnecessary words, like very, just, really, so, and that. And we know about killing your darlings, purple prose, tight writing, and so on. But here are a few other ideas:

·         Look for characters who repeat themselves. Sure, we repeat ourselves in real life, especially when we are upset or excited. And we want dialogue to be realistic. But our characters don’t have to follow suit. If a character says “I can’t stop thinking about what happened” over and over in one conversation, well, does she need to?

·         Look for repeated description. Really, after the first couple of times you tell your readers the hero’s eyes are blue, they probably already have him firmly formed in their minds, baby blues and all. It’s okay to say, “She looked into his eyes” sometimes, sans color. One author and I just had a laugh over her tendency to describe the use of napkins at almost every meal her characters enjoy. Sometimes we can let readers assume common action rather than repeatedly describing it.

·         Look for unnecessary phrases, not just words. Did you know you can almost always replace “in order to” with “to”? Try it! Google “unnecessary phrases” and you’ll find lists of what you can safely delete or replace.

·         Look for pet phrases, not just words. I don’t want to be unkind, but I once heard someone say “as far as that goes” so often I thought I might scream. Sometimes I feel that way when I read a book where the author uses the same phrase over and over--and that goes for a character who uses the same phrase over and over too! I recommend keeping a list of pet phrases as well as words to address. If you decide to replace any, try to ensure your new phrase has fewer words.

·         Look for redundant words. Added bonus? Final outcome? We don't need two words. Check this and this. (Notice I did not say check this out, but I wanted to!)  
    What other ideas do you have?

     After twenty-four years with publishing house Zondervan in Grand Rapids, Michigan, most recently as an executive managing editor, Jean Bloom returned to Central Indiana to be near family and take her freelance editorial business full-time (Bloom in Words Editorial Services). Her personal blog is Bloom in Words too, where she often posts articles about the writing life. She and her husband, Cal, have three children and five grandchildren.

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1 comment:

  1. Such a good reminder, Jean. Sometimes it's painful to cut those beloved babies out of our books. "Well" and "just" are words I tend to overuse. I recently read a book that I mostly skimmed because the dialogue was so tedious and repetitious. Don't know how that got past the editor, except it was about 7th in a series. May no Hoosier Inker write like that. Thanks!