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One Potato, Two Potato: A Talk of Word Count

August 30, 2010

I’ve set myself a new goal. Each week, on Mondays and Fridays, I will post something substantial here that pertains to writing. Mondays will be general topics on my own writing habits and thoughts, and Fridays will be entitled The Craft of Writing. I have 12 topics ready for Fridays so far. πŸ™‚

Today is Monday, and I want to talk about word counts today.

Why is this on my mind? Well, Catalyst is almost complete, and I’m about to have a new release with the Cast the Cards anthology. It has me thinking about novels, novellas, and short stories.

I am not a fan of short stories. I don’t like writing them. I don’t like reading them. I find them to be only glimpses of a life, of a story, and I don’t like glimpses. I like becoming completely engrossed in a story, and I never feel that way about a short story unless it’s a supplement to a longer series (like Mya’s A Spring Tradition or the shorts Jourdan Lane has done for her Soul Mates series). Being part of something larger, I do become engrossed, even if I become annoyed at paying out quite a lot of money in order to read those little chunks of the story. This is why I don’t like serialized fiction. Paying $1.20-$1.99 for something that’s under 15,000 words is just ridiculous, and so it just compounds my dislike of reading short stories.

Writing them is even worse. My shortest story thus far is Oneiros, appearing in the Cast the Cards anthology. It’s just shy of 12,000 words, and the upper limit on that anthology was 10,000 words. Now, we were lucky, as the other stories submitted ran below the 10,000 word limit, so there was plenty of room for an extra 1,000 odd words, but writing the damn thing was like pulling teeth. It took me months to write it, and I had so little interest in finishing it. Is it a boring story? No. It’s a look into someone’s life as they have to face a serious illness, and I find the story itself compelling and beautiful, but I wanted to tell more than just the glimpse we see. Every 100 words was an accomplishment, and every word I cut was to be celebrated, but I still feel like the story isn’t finished.

I like my stories to be finished. πŸ™‚ There may be a sequel to the short story in the future, maybe a novella, that takes place two years after the events in the short story and not centering on Caleb, but I’m so sick of the thing, I have to set it aside for now. Short stories are not my thing, and I am steering clear of them from now on.

Novellas are a little better. I can write them–and enjoy doing so, honestly–and reading them is a nice hour or so diversion for me. There’s more to sink into creatively, and I feel I can weave an entertaining story that is worth paying for. Characters can be adequately developed, a sense of time shown, and a slight plot slipped in alongside the romance/sex. My next anthology submission is actually 30,000 words with my co-author, and I know that will be so much easier to write than Oneiros was.

Novels are my favorite to write, though, which is why most of my releases are novel length (70K-100K words). Catalyst is a novel, currently clocking it at about 74K words and two more scenes left to write. We should be able to comfortably finish at around 80K. It makes me feel amazingly accomplished to see 80K words in a file, bound beautifully in a book. The opportunity to tell a sweeping tale in so many pages is what I love to do, and nothing compares to it. It’s my chosen length to write.

I do have a daily word count that I don’t really write to on Sundays or Mondays. Sunday is my ‘day off’ from everything. It’s when I just unplug and talk with friends and spend time with the husband-thing. Mondays are just bad days for anything, truthfully. I tend to be quite blah on Mondays, so blog posts, Facebook appearances, and Twitter are about it for my Mondays. I get the most done Tuesday-Saturday. Usually, my daily word count goal is 2,000 words. It might not seem like much, but it does add up, and I also don’t just stop when I reach that goal. I tend to average 6,000 words a day when I apply myself (like when a deadline is coming up).

Now, I don’t always meet that goal. Some days, I’ll be lucky to break 1,000 words, but I try not to beat myself up over it. I look at it as I still managed something, which is certainly better than nothing. πŸ™‚

For me, word count is very important. It’s progress, and when you see that word count meter tick up, it’s motivating. I admit, in editing I lose a chunk of that word count, but that’s all right. ALL (and I mean EVERY SINGLE WRITER) manuscripts should be cut in editing. That’s the biggest issue I see right now in the e-books I buy. Poor editing that allows for stories to drag for the sake of having more books published, no matter the technical issues. Every manuscript can benefit from a liberal red pen and a strict editor. When I send my manuscripts to my proofreaders and editor, I expect there to be plenty of red marks and cuts. A story should be tight and smooth, and cutting word count does that.

Word count is great. It’s a visible show of progress. Opening up a blank, 0-word file to write those first sentence of a new manuscript is just depressing at times. But, seeing the word count grow over the weeks/months of writing, even if it’s only 100 words a day, is intensely satisfying and rewarding, and so, in my opinion, word count is an essential tool of a writer, a quiet, passive motivator. πŸ™‚


Editor’s Rant

This is a little section I will devote every Monday post to. Just a 250 word rant about an editing issue I just dealt with in either my own manuscripts (usually co-authored) or with a submitted manuscript I’ve just gone through.

Epithets. What is an epithet you ask? ‘The blond’, ‘the boy’, ‘the monster’, ‘the girl’ are all epithets. They’re descriptive words or phrases used in place of a character’s name. They’re unnecessary unless you’re trying to draw attention to that aspect of a character (the redhead) or you have yet to introduce the character’s name in narrative (Clive shook the man’s hand.).

These occur most often in scenes where more than one character of the same gender are interacting. Pronouns can get squirrelly if the author isn’t careful. If you catch yourself using an epithet in place of a pronoun, ask yourself if you can reword the sentence to eliminate the ambiguity. Sometimes, it’s all right to just use the pronoun: Aric put his hand on Nikola’s chest, feeling his nipple draw up. or Morpheus smiled down at Ethan, touching his lips with his fingers. The reader can make intuitive leaps based on context.

Also, don’t be afraid of using their name twice in a sentence. It’s not repetitive if it makes it clear who is doing what: Bob grabbed Steven’s arm, and Steven cried out. Using a pronoun in that sentence would be ambiguous, and so restating Steven’s name is perfectly acceptable.

In conclusion, if your two-person scene reads like there are six people in the room, it’s time to revise with an eye to eliminating epithets. There is a place for such things, but there is almost always a better way to say what you need to say.

This post’s playlist (I always listen to music as I blog, so this will become a regular spot):
Bette Midler – I Think It’s Going To Rain Today
Tina Turner – Missing You
Evanescence – Missing [Live]
Cutting Crew – I Just Died In Your Arms
Les Miserables [Broadway Cast] – Look Down
Celine Dion – If You Asked Me To
Edwin McCain – I’ll Be
Prince – 7
Don Henley – The Last Worthless Evening

4 Comments leave one →
  1. August 30, 2010 1:26 pm

    I have to disagree a bit here.

    Bob grabbed Steven’s arm, and Steven cried out.

    I am not liking that sentence at all. It could be reworked to the name Steven doesn’t need to be repeated. The sentence as is makes the writing seem elementary.

  2. August 30, 2010 1:30 pm

    I agree it’s a simple sentence, but it was supposed to be. πŸ™‚ The point was to demonstrate that saying ‘Bob grabbed Steven’s arm, and he cried out’ leaves ambiguity as to who is crying out. However, it is not necessary to include an epithet there. The sentence could be ‘Stephen cried out when Bob grabbed his arm’, and in this case, the ‘his’ is not ambiguous. This was my point that the sentence can almost always be reworked to remove the need for an epithet.

    Yes, you are correct, the solution isn’t always to restate the character’s name, but it is a viable option in many cases. People choose epithets to avoid using the character’s name more than once in a sentence or paragraph, and I say that’s not necessary. There is no evil in repeating a character’s name for clarity’s sake.

  3. August 30, 2010 1:33 pm

    With that I agree. I read many books where there are so many he’s, she’s and it’s that I have to re-read it to see who is saying what.

    Good post.

  4. August 30, 2010 1:43 pm

    Oh, I know the feeling. If you have no idea who is speaking or doing what, then it’s time to rewrite something, but the ultimate solution is not an epithet. I encourage the authors who write for me not to use them, and I try very hard not to use them in my own writing unless it is to draw attention to something. Saying John and Jacob were in the bathtub, and the blond kept poking John. makes it sound like there are three people in that bathtub when I know the author didn’t mean that. πŸ™‚ Again, a very simplistic sentence, but it’s just an example.

    Thank you.

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