Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Over writing

I've spent a lot of time yapping about format in query letters.

A lot.
But not alot.

Truthfully, bad form won't kill you. It raises the bar to be sure, but it won't kill your query.

What will kill your query is bad writing. One of the most reliable indicators of bad writing is an inconspicuous little phrase:

My novel is approximately 75,074 words in length.

I'll give you a second to think why that generates the fastest no since "fiction novel."







got it?

Well, more like "got them?"

1. approximately 75,074. How much more precise can you get? 3/4 of a word? This is a sign you're not actually thinking about what you're writing. That is a BAD sign


2. words in length. What else would it be? Words in depth? Words in height? This is a sign you're over writing. Things like "she picked up the banana with her hands" Well, yea, what ELSE would she use?

Ok, if you're Tawna Fenske yes your feet, but generally people are picking things up with their hands. It's like saying she breathed with her lungs. In other words: d'uh.

Reexamine your query for this kind of over-writing. If I see it in a query, I know I'll see it in the novel. If I know I'll see it in the novel, I know I"m saying "no thanks."

32 comments:

jdh said...

In a total panic, I opened my query. I was happy to discover that regardless of other potential lapses, I did have a nice round approximate word count.

Tara Maya said...

It's taken me a long time to learn the difference between overwriting and exuberance, even though the two are mortal foes.

Brittany said...

At least it wasn't, "My fictional novel is approximately 75,074.84739203 words in length, based off my Microsoft Word counter."

wry wryter said...

As I read your blog with my eyes, I have decided with my mind that I should take up knitting with my hands.

I love this blog, (with my heart),it makes me feel inept and smart at the same time.
Like dipping gummy worms in whipped cream.

Nicole MacDonald said...

Very good point, currently editing any of those spots out of my latest re-write. Will have a look over my query when I finish :)

Livia said...

Well, maybe he had a half word in his fiction nov

Candyland said...

Haha! Tawna can't escape the banana with the feet!!!

Joe Iriarte said...

Regarding "words in length": I get around this by using the word-count as an adjective: "my 81,000 word Young Adult . . . ." Mostly I did it this way because it was hard to fit everything in one page, so I needed that sentence to do double duty. Short of that, though, if you were going to go the "my novel" + "is" + ___ route, how else would you write it? Just say "My novel is 81,000 words" and stop there? Sounds awkward to my ear.

christwriter said...

In their defense (and I may get shoes thrown at me for it but whatever) they *might* have the incredible shrinking novel. What is the proper protocol for reporting a word-count when you're pretty sure it'll shrink between now and when the agent asks for it.

I know I re-read my book fairly often (what can I say? I like the story. That's why I wrote it. I wanted to read it, nobody else had written it and I don't like waiting) and ALWAYS find another two or three words that can go bye-bye. Or a phrase that can be re-phrased. I usually shed another hundred words per read.

Ergo, approximately = "A couple words might vanish before you get here"

... yeah, they were probably a moron, but ya know, just a thought.

Simon C. Larter said...

My main question is: since when did "duh" have an apostrophe in it? It can't possibly be a typo, unless you have a twitchy right pinkie.

I'm going to go ahead and assume you intended a brief glottal stop there. Otherwise the whole thing just doesn't make sense.

lora96 said...

The temptation is to respond: We are sorry but we cannot consider queries for fiction novels unless the exact length is specified. Approximation is insufficient.

middle grade ninja said...

Yikes. That's an easy mistake to make. Thanks for the heads up.

JRMann said...

It makes me happy to know that, after double checking my query, my word count is rounded and I don't have anything like that in there.

It's a good point though, I've found myself over-writing at times. It's a hard habit to break, but I'm working on it!

Janet Reid said...

Simon, it's French. D'uh, that is. De Uhuh Du Jour.

myimaginaryblog said...

Twitter is an excellent tutor for writing more concisely. (Or even sometimes for under-writing.) (Unfortunately that does not mean it will underwrite your novel.)

OR, in other words,

Twitter will break an over-writing habit and even make you under-write (although, sadly, it will not underwrite your novel).

[Same thoughts as above, but in 124 characters instead of 162.]

Sheri Strong said...

Lol! Here's one for you:

Dear Janet,

At this point in time, I've written from my head a fiction novel on two twins...

(My English prof would die!)

Lunar Eclipse said...

I would be curious to know what you think of my writing ?

laughingwolf said...

holy crap... no wonder agents need a nip, here'n there, all day long! lol

N. R. Williams said...

I'm pretty sure I read a book on writing queries that said, 'approximately.' Good post.
Nancy
http://nrwilliams.blogspot.com/

wry wryter said...

Sacrebleu

Go Janet

And I don't speckin' ze French

Tawna Fenske said...

Oh dear, I'm never going to live down the banana thing, am I? If I ever get famous, some interviewer is going to dig up that blog post and say, "we don't care about your book -- let's talk about your toes."

Thanks for this great reminder about over-writing & attention to detail. I'm about to dive into revision mode, and suspect I'll have a fair amount of editing to do on both fronts.

Tawna

Jen said...

You had me at alot!

Steve Stubbs said...

Be careful. Your form letter may end up in the next volume of Bill Shapiro's rejection letters:

http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2010/07/20/eveningnews/main6696691.shtml?tag=mncol;lst;2

My favorite:

"The work you sent us is quite terrible. Please forgive the form rejection but it would take too much of my time to tell you exactly how terrible it was."

If that is a form rejection, it means the agent sends the same endearing, lifetime network generating comment to everyone. The style also indicates it is someone in Britain.

Kate said...

I'm a copywriter, so I tend to be overly concise in my fiction writing. As a result, my manuscripts are always on the short side. ALWAYS. I don't think I can tell the difference between over-writing and detail.

Margaret Yang said...

My pet peeves are "shrugged her shoulders" and "thought to herself." Because what else could she shrug? And who else to think to?

Duh, indeed.

Cheryl said...

If you've been thinking about this alot... you're not alone. ;-)

http://hyperboleandahalf.blogspot.com/2010/04/alot-is-better-than-you-at-everything.html

"Cat" will do said...

What do you do when a well known agent with years and years of experience reads your novel, then proceeds to list, with page numbers, everything they feel is "wrong" with it, all the while unqualifiedly praising your writing to the heavens, while you're left scratching your head wondering how she could have missed the information that was right on the page in black and white?

And how to respond to an agent like that? "Thank you for your time. I can believe you missed so many details that were right there in front of you."

Any suggestions appreciated.

Angie Ledbetter said...

I'm thinking you wouldn't appreciate "...75,000 words in width" either. hehe

jdh said...

@ Cat--
Wow! I would say thank you to the agent first. They have taken a lot of time. Much better than the usual form rejection. If they missed something you think is obvious, have another few readers check things out and see if it is obvious to them. Maybe the agent just missed something, or maybe...

After dealing with the objections, I would resubmit to the agent.

Travis Erwin said...

Once, while in college I went with a bunch of guys to see this stripper, and she picked up a banana with ... wait never mind I better not tell that story.

Alaina said...

Do you have any blogs on how to do a succesful synopsis? What I am finding in books and the internet seem to contradict one another. I have already rewritten mine ten times, and still I need a lot of work. This may by a dumb question, but are they supposed to be boring? Thank You... :-)

karenlee said...

Is it better to round up or down in a word count or be exact? Thank you.