Friday, April 15, 2016

Word Count v.confusing


i understand that the average length of a novel is 70-74k. my manuscript, which i am getting ready for the query stage clocks in at around 67k. it is commercial women's fiction - think bridget jones's diary. now, bridget jones was around 64k but it was published in britain so their rules maybe different. is my word length an outright deal breaker?

You'll recall Bridget Jones Diary was written in epistolary format. Such a format often runs short on word count because of that structure.

For example, the headlines of each diary entry are abbreviated with number of cigarettes, number of calories etc. This is shorthand for knowing what is happening with Our Bridget.

Unless you're writing in this style (diary entries) you're simply going to need more words.

Word count isn't the problem. It's a symptom of the problem. Proper word count is the correct number of words to tell the story, and that includes world building. That's why stories set in "other worlds" run long.

It's why books of instructions (Life's Little Instruction Book) are VERY short.

The question you need to ponder isn't word count, it's have you developed your story enough? Is there texture of smell and sound. Do we see the furniture, not just the room?

When I did a post on word count earlier, it was to guide you into getting a full story on the page, not actually dictate the number of words you must have.


To answer your question: 64K isn't a deal breaker, but I'm skeptical that you've gotten enough on the page to hold my attention for a novel.


Here's where you go back and chart the number of times you evoke smell or sound. The number of places you flesh out the setting with more than "her bedroom" or "his truck." Is his truck tidy or messy? If it's messy, what's it messy with? Fast food wrappers and empty Coors bottles say one thing; books and newspapers say another. That kind of description makes your story come alive.

102 comments:

Lisa Bodenheim said...

It's so handy to have crit partners. I think I'm getting the scene from my head onto the paper and they ask me, "What is she feeling? Why is she mad?" or else the opposite when I write on the historical scenes, "This feels lecture-ish."

Opie; you said Bridget Jones Diary. Does that mean you've written in epistolary style too? If it's not, be sure you've had some crit partners or beta readers who've read it critically for you.

Wow...no one here yet. Guess I'll just sip on my tea by my lonesome.

AJ Blythe said...

JRs advice makes perfect sense as usual.

My 'dirty draft' is always full of his truck and her room references. It's on my second run through I start to take out the telling and replace with showing. I usually add lots of words doing this.

For example,
First draft: She walked to the bench but couldn't sit because of all the footy gear on it. She checked the time. Fifteen minutes until her team mates arrived. 27 words

Second draft: Frost-burnt grass crackled underfoot as Erin walked to the edge of the football field. Drink bottles and jerseys littered the bench. Not that it mattered. After a day like this she wouldn’t have been able to sit still for long anyway. Her bag slid from her fingers as the town clock chimed. Fifteen minutes until her team had the field; coming early suddenly seemed like a very bad idea. 70 words

An extra 43 words added while essentially saying the same thing. Only better - and it still needs work so chances are by polish it will be a smidge longer still.

Carolynnwith2Ns said...

For the kind of writing I do, word count is like calorie count. Too much and my pontifications have me feeling bloated and my editor taking my plate away. Too little and what I want to say is starved for content.
Write with the idea of leftovers, (don't want to come up short), but edit and serve sensibly.

You can tell two things by this comment: I lost a hundred pounds a few years back and as yet, I have not had breakfast.

Good luck OP. Beefing up and getting healthy muscle instead of blubber, is not easy.

Lucie Witt said...

Hi, Lisa :)

64k seems short for adult. Author Victoria Schwab has been tweeting lately about how she has to get the bones of her story down before she can add the flesh. That's kinda how I think of it. My early drafts are usually 20k shorter than my final, and it's largely because I go back and add details like Janet mentions.

I think Lisa is very right, betas will be helpful. Maybe even ask them specifically to let you know if it feels to sparse or underdeveloped in parts. In my writing low word count often means my smaller characters aren't developed enough.

Good luck OP!

nightsmusic said...

I've read both short novels, 65-70K and books that are 200K word counts. I have enjoyed neither though the longer ones, yes to a point. I want to know when Georgia walks into a room what she sees.

A) Georgia stepped into a room filled with bright sunlight from the floor to ceiling windows. A perfect foil to the flowering plants and other greenery, she understood why this was the perfect room to dub "the Greenhouse" though it was fully a part of the house and accessed from the library.

B) Georgia walked into the bright room. It was filled with plants.

C) Georgia walked into a sunlit room filled with Dieffenbachia, spider plants, lilies, tulips, hyacynths, small evergreens and all sorts of manner of bromide. There were tall ones, short ones, fat ones, some had flowers on them. As she walked past the spider plants, she saw that each one had small 'babies' attached to long, hanging stems, each one ready to be potted on its own. The humidity in the room was higher than the rest of the house thanks to all the water it took to keep the plants alive. Tables were everywhere with all sorts of tools, watering cans, pots, bags of dirt, brooms, everything one would need to keep all of the plants happy and healthy.

Then Roger stabbed her and the plants faded from view.

________

So, which one would you want to read? I'm thinking B is probably more in line with your story. A is good, maybe a little short, but it gives you a 'sense' of the room. C is too full of minutiae and doesn't need quite that much description. Granted, it's a small paragraph in a bigger picture, but imagine paragraph after paragraph filled with too much minutiae.

There's a fine line between not enough and too much. Not enough and your reader is never really engaged. Too much and their eyes cross. In this case, you need to look at where you can flesh out the story more, draw the reader in more, whether it's in descriptions or deep point of view (which is where I would start) before querying. And then have a beta reader or two tell you what they 'felt' as they read the story. Were they a part of it? Or only an indifferent observer?

Robert Ceres said...

None of my cp's ever had an issue of using too few words to describe " texture of smell and sound," or to all the reader to "see the furniture, not just the room?" I think this is relatively common. Word count shortfalls are then a symptom of a not full enough storyline. A plot that might be too simple. Not enough plot development of minor characters. Etc. I think the opposite condition, overly large word count, is almost always at least partly caused by superfluous sentences and words.

In my case, my first draft was 117k. Current ms, 88k. That's a lot of extra sentences and words.

I must be unusually grumpy today to be starting off challenging some of Janet's words.

E.M. Goldsmith said...

Well, this will never be my problem - I get carried away in the opposite direction. My earlier drafts of my current WUS ran 250K words. I had to chisel out the bits that were not story and submitted at 150k words. Much chastisement - told by some that 125k was max. Got it down to 131k. Thank heavens for Flash fiction helping me learn to minimize.

I would advise OP to make sure story is complete because the short length, I think, has you in the territory of novella which is fine if that is as long as your story runs, but not sure finding an agent with a novella is your best bet. I don't think there is much of a traditional publishing market for novellas. I could be way off here. Not enough coffee yet.

Colin Smith said...

This resonates. Description is an area I'm constantly working on. Sometimes I get it right (as beta readers have pointed out), but often I feel I'm too busy with plot to stop and smell the roses. I have to tell myself to slow down. Think: I know what this room looks like in my head, but how does the reader see it? Have I told the reader enough that they can see what I see? When I read, I don't need architectural precision, but enough color and atmosphere that I get it. This is probably one of the reasons I challenged myself with a descriptive minefield for my flash fiction today: the face in the mirror.

Lucie Witt said...

I also think this very much is impacted by plot. Complicated fantasy like Game of Thrones, I would think, needs a lot more words to tell a story than a straight forward romance (that's not a value statement for either genre - I write romance!).

SiSi said...

Finding the "right" word count strikes me as the very core of writing a good book. While there are general guidelines, generally you don't get an exact word count like you do for SAT essays. The art of knowing how much description to provide and how many plotlines to develop is hard. There's a line you have to reach but can't cross, but no one tells you where the line is. Getting help from beta readers or an editor can be very helpful here.

RachelErin said...

My current draft is also about 65K (for YA fantasy). In my case it's definitely descriptively thin. One saying I've been repeating when deciding where to expand description is "write the slow parts fast and the fast parts slow." And I know someone else will let us know which famous author is famous for saying that, because I can't recall this morning.

Basically, if a setting or situation is more important to my character or plot, I describe it more. I think about where her intention is, and what information is necessary for a complete world.

Slightly OT, I thought of all our query/synopsis troubles last night. I was at a stage production of Cymbeline, famous for being Shakespeare's most convoluted plot with all his favorite devices (bear? check. Poison that make you appear temporarily dead? check. MC dressing up as a man? check. I could go on...). I thought it would make a fun synopsis or query exercise. If you can get THAT plot into one paragraph (or even two pages), your own book will likely seem easier. It took me half an hour to explain it my kids this morning. Plus, it's an amazing blend of funny/tragic. I cried and laughed simultaneously at least three times.

"Oh, Leonatus, where is your head?"

Robert Ceres said...

Nightmusic, I'd go with b. Then cut to:

Georgia walked into the bright room filled with plants. Then Roger stabbed her.

I love the contrast here by the way. Practicing for the next story contest? A freaky example because it parallels a snippet in my manuscript:

Bright windows filled with afternoon sun and tropical plants everywhere made the spacious library seem even bigger. Mom was shelving books.

I considered dropping ‘bright,’ but left it in because of the nice rhythm, and the mood it creates.

I love (and try to emulate) authors with an economy of words. They use just enough to evoke powerful images, but not so many that their words contradict my imagination.



Mister Furkles said...

You want to draw the reader into the each scene. Think like a director of a play. They use clothes, lighting, various objects, and the background sets. The actors use gestures, posture, and facial expressions.

Are your significant secondary characters real multi-dimensional people? Or are they monochromatic paper-dolls? Give them likes, hates, fears, loves, desires, and a brief history. Give them ticks, gestures, expressions, and emotions. Put clothes on them.

Go to the library and get a very popular novel in you genre. Take scenes one at a time in any order. Count the words devoted to describing the characters appearance and minor acts. Count the words that describe the setting. Count the words that are not part of the plot. Compare this to you own writing.

Celia Reaves said...

Funny - my critique readers consistently comment that I have too much sensory description in my early drafts! Mostly they say this about scenes where the narrator (it's first person POV) is in the middle of a threatening and confusing scene, and it's unreasonable for her to be thinking of each texture and sound unless it's directly relevant to, I don't know, survival. I'm doing a lot of pruning!

My big worry is the other kind of "too short" - is the story itself deep enough, rich enough, complex enough? Can I add more threads and obstacles that make sense and move the story forward?

OP, this is a basic question you need to answer. Is the word count low because the story is not fully realized, or because the story itself is slender? If the answer to either (or both) is yes, it gives you a clear direction. If the answer to both is no, then what you have is more of a novella, and harder to sell.

Jenny C said...

I loved the first BRIDGET JONES so much that I refuse to read the 3rd one in which Mr. Darcy is (gasp) DEAD!

I will never get over this.

Janet Reid said...

Jenny C, oh my god, really? The second one was so forced that I never considered reading the third, but EGAD!

BJ Muntain said...

Yes. A story should be as long as it needs to be. Wordcounts are guidelines - but they're tried and true guidelines. If a story falls too far outside the standard guidelines, there may be a problem.

As Janet said, too short may mean not enough setting. Or maybe the story is too simplistic, with not much depth. Perhaps a subplot is needed to provide that depth. Or maybe the story isn't meant to be a full novel, but a novella.

A story that is too long (longer than needed for worldbuilding) can mean rambling narrative or aimless plot. It can mean overwriting or too much introspection. Or not.

As for setting - there's a writing problem known as 'white wall syndrome'. Basically, the writer forgets to put in setting, so it feels to the reader like the characters are in a white room with nothing else. The writer *thinks* it's all there, because they can see it in their minds, but they don't always get it written. And they're usually completely surprised that people can't see it the way they do. Unfortunately, mindreaders are a heck of a lot rarer than book readers...

(I'm not saying this is OP's problem. I've never read OP's work. But it's common.)

Adib Khorram said...

It's interesting Janet mentions the smell of things: that's the sense I tend to overlook the most. I wrote my last novel with a Post-It note on my laptop that read: "But what does it SMELL like?"

I too tend to over-write my first drafts. My revisions revolve around picking fewer, better words, and the choosing the right details to show.

Donnaeve said...

I was curious too, if OP had written in that epistolary form.

Word count stated in DIXIE DUPREE contract: 90K-100K. (It came in at approx 95K. I like to have wiggle room)

Current WIP is at 100K and likely to go to 120K-125K. Funny how we each have our own way of doing things. I like to overwrite so when I have to edit (kill my darlings) I have that...wiggle room.

nightsmusic said...

Robert Ceres, LOL! The only reason I wouldn't go with B is that when you have something like the stabbing, lulling your readers into a false sense of security with a bit more normalcy first gives them a bit more of a shock when the stabbing happens. Too sparse and I think the OMGDidthatjusthappen factor loses some value. However! That is just me and really, the story in context is what will dictate more or less in that situation.

And I wouldn't drop 'bright' in your sentence. It could be a dreary, dull day (alliteration anyone?) and how would we know? Even the afternoon sun can be subdued and graying. Besides, the 'bright' makes me picture the windows as big rather than just plain, typical sized ones.

Mark Thurber said...

Celia, I'm working on the same issue. My WIP is first-person YA sci-fi, set on Earth and Mars 400 years in the future, so lots of world-building is required, but it also has to be consistent with the narrator's voice.

Mark Thurber said...

Great tip on describing smells, Adib -- I'll remember that!

nightsmusic said...

You know, there's a website titled DoesTheDogDie.com where you can go to look up movies and see if the animal dies. They ought to have that for books too. Would save a lot of grief. And wallbangers...

Robert Ceres said...

I know a person who reads the last page befoe buying the book. Kill me now.

Timothy Lowe said...

Interesting to hear about different processes of drafting. I can't imagine getting down a 'skeleton' draft and then filling in the pieces - but I guess it works for some. I always feel like the sights, smells, sounds should all connect to the action (if they don't, why mention?). My trouble in the past has been dropping POV and internal monologue (not 'grounding' readers in someone's head) in favor of action. That I often have to find a way to fill back in on revision. The funny thing is, the more I write, the more revision I feel like I need. Now I find myself questioning quite a bit more than I used to. Is this character 'real'? Is this scene necessary? Is there enough tension? Is the opening sound?

Donna - I'm curious what your word count started at for "Dixie"
Collin - There's a Robert Graves poem entitled "The Face in the Mirror" - check it out when you're done with your FF exercise

Craig said...

I was hoping to find the season finale of TROUNCING DREAMS: LITERARY AGENTS GONE WILD on this channel. This is almost as good.

I just, last night, finished RESCUING FROST it came in at 89,000 which is the smallest word count I have yet finished with.

67k sounds a bit short. I admit that I am not an expert on commercial women's fiction but it sounds a bit short.

Be careful adding details. Sometimes they can stand out like drips and runs of Razzle Dazzle

Susan said...

This post is so interesting to me, especially with regards to the epistolary novel because that's the format I've used for the book I'm editing now. Epistolary novels, I'm finding, are hard to pull off and seem to be hit or miss with readers, but sometimes that's exactly how the book wants to be written (I really, really tried writing it as a normal book. It didn't take).

The first draft of my book was around 65K words, but I wasn't entirely happy with the writing, so after some feedback from early beta readers, I did a complete rewrite that not only added multiple layers to the story, but another 7K words. Better, I thought, but I still wasn't entirely satisfied with it, and I couldn't figure out why until this third full edit, where I added more visual details to ground the readers in the scene. Rewriting some of the letters to include more visuals have made the scenes more powerful while keeping the word count steady at around 70K.

Epistolary novels are tough because they create a certain distance for the reader. Because events are told after the fact to another character, they're often more "tell" versus "show," which creates a unique barrier. Telling can be a useful tool in storytelling, and it's why the epistolary format works for my book about chronic illness--it helps to get us inside my MC's head regarding her thoughts on being ill. But there are certain places where a few visuals/details (more "show") can have an equally powerful impact and help the reader along in the story.

OP: Consider running through your manuscript again. Are there any layers or subplots that you can flesh out a bit more? Are there places--a scene here, a sentence there--that can benefit from expansion through visual details? Even if we don't necessarily go into that much detail in our own everyday letters, evoking such imagery can keep our readers engaged.

Colin Smith said...

Timothy: Thanks. I'm blogging flash fiction all month for the A-to-Z challenge. Today's is already up.

Dena Pawling said...


When I'm reading other writers' work as a CP, the most common comment I make is "what is she thinking about now?" Most of the time, the description, action, and dialogue aren't the problem. But I want to be in the MC's head, knowing what she's thinking. Especially in women's fiction, you can't write the story as a fly on the wall observer, you really need to be in the MC's head. It's not enough to show the plants in the room, and that MC looks at the plants and sniffs the roses in the air, then says "it's so beautiful in here." You also need to write what's in her mind. Is she thinking about how much she misses having her sister here to enjoy this with her? Or maybe how she wants to pick all the flowers to lay on her child's grave? Or how she wants to retreat from the world and just stay in that room forever? Women's fiction is about "the woman's emotional journey." If you don't have her thoughts and emotions in the story, it doesn't work.

My son's leave ends today [sniff] so if you want to, and you don't already have a full complement of beta readers, you can send me your first chapter and I'll take a look. I'm no expert, but if you want another set of eyes on it, I'd be happy to give it a read.

Good luck.

Bethany Elizabeth said...

I used to think I was strange, because my word counts would often grow larger during edits - good to know I'm not alone! Although I tend to cut excess description when I edit, because I have the fantasy author's curse of needless scene description.

That's something Robert Jordan was (in)famous for, by the way. Page long descriptions of every innkeeper, and they were all fat, jolly, and pleasant. Except one, who was skinny. And guess what? THAT one was evil.

Kae Bell said...

I haven't had coffee yet but here goes. John Le Carre (my writer idol) has his characters recall memories that the current scene reminds them of or is related to. I think this adds nice texture. And of course words.

Susan said...

OFF TOPIC (sorry)

nightsmusic: Dear lord, thank you for that link! I was traumatized--traumatized-- after I read "Where The Red Fern Grows" as a kid. So much so that I refused to watch Lassie, which I was obsessed with, until my mom had to sit me down and explain Hollywood to me. Now I'm all, "Screw Timmy, save the dog."

When I read "I Am The Messenger" by Markus Zusak, I had a heavy feeling in my gut because he keeps telling us that the dog is so old he smells like death. I remember cursing at the author--"don't you kill him, you bastard"--the whole way through.

In the book I'm finishing, five years passes between the beginning and end of the story. The dog (there's always a dog!) is already older at the beginning, serving as a type of parallel for what the MC is going through. It had to happen. I didn't want it to happen, but it had to. So I wrote a few sentences as simple as possible:

"The Camry’s gone now. So is Bilbo. And we’re all so much older, those moments becoming lost, distant memories that make me catch my breath when I stumble upon them."

Yep. Bawled and squeezed my own dogs until they begged for a reprieve.

Don't mess with the animals.

Sherry Howard said...

As always, JR and commentors made me think about ways to revise and improve. I keep a notecard where I write: See, Hear, Smell, Feel. Taste and touch seem to take care of themselves.

Dena, I'll be in touch!

nightsmusic said...

I know, I already hit my three limit but, Susan, you're welcomed :)

I will rarely read a book or watch a movie where the animal dies. I don't care who wrote the book, I am a person who does not do well with that at all. I do like the way you worded things though. It's...easier to take. Not jarring.

Sometimes, brevity is good for the reader. Like your ending. :) Too much throughout though (and boy, I've read some that made me ask how they ever got published!) leaves the reader with a feeling of missing something in the book that could have been there even with a few choice words.

Claire said...

I have a similar problem to the OP; my WIP is currently at around 60,000 and I'm trying to work out how and where I can expand it. It's not lacking in descriptive colour, so I think I'm going to need to add another plot strand in order to get it to a publishable length. I find it much easier to cut words than to add to what already feels like a complete story, but at the same time I have to be realistic about what's saleable.

67,000 certainly isn't a novella, OP, so I wouldn't panic too much. There are lots of published novels in the 65-75,000 word bracket. Ian McEwan gets away with ones of 40-50,000, but he's Ian McEwan :)

CED said...

I'm naturally a shorter-form writer, so the longer the piece, the more it strains my muscles. Novels really stretch me, so I'm always looking for ways to (organically) increase the word count. Participating in Nano several times has helped, but I'm still not quite there yet. Those who consistently have to cut because they clock in at 200-250K words amaze me!

Dena Pawling said...


I have a dog in my WIP. He does NOT die, but his reaction at the end of the story is what most of my CPs say make them cry.

A really good site for description that I've used endlessly is here -

https://www.onestopforwriters.com/

In my opinion, it is worth the annual fee I paid.

Sherry - sure, send it over!

Colin Smith said...

I just refreshed to catch the latest comments and WOAH!!! My brain was not expecting THAT! I like the new template, Janet. That sudden blast of yellow and orange was just a shock to my sleepy eyes. :) I see you now have a shelf for your awards. May it be filled to overflowing!

Dena's Link: https://www.onestopforwriters.com/

Bethany Elizabeth said...

I think every generation has a movie where an animal dies and the entire population is so traumatized that movie makers don't try again for a few decades. For my mom's generation (well, a few years earlier) it was Old Yeller. For me, it was The Neverending Story.

Back on topic, however! One of my current WIPs (not fantasy) has a format similar to an epistolary format. It's one characters voice the whole way through. It's impossible to tell before I finish, but it doesn't feel like a 90k word novel. But who knows? The magic is in the editing.

Timothy Lowe said...

I read somewhere "The Notebook" started at 80,000 words. The published version was 40k. I used to think Hemingway was just snip-crazy by making his daily goal to 1) write 1000 words then 2) cut to 500. But maybe he was just picking his best stuff.

Jenz said...

BJ said: "As Janet said, too short may mean not enough setting. Or maybe the story is too simplistic, with not much depth. Perhaps a subplot is needed to provide that depth. Or maybe the story isn't meant to be a full novel, but a novella."

These are all vital issues to consider.

I hope no one misunderstands this advice as simply padding out descriptions. Dry descriptions are boring as hell. Throwing in fancy language won't save them, either. What makes a good description is added emotional depth. AJ's example above is a good one; the second version isn't just added words and details, it shows us how the character feels in the moment and raises tension.

And nightsmusic, thanks for the reminder of that site. Killing dogs is a complete dealbreaker for me, in books and in movies.

Kae Bell said...

Did this site just fall into an orange julius? Holy wake me up before you go-go!

Brigid said...

Whoa. Orange.

Dena, I love that, about seeing inside the character's head. It's crucial.

Speaking of women in fiction, have you all seen this? It's a look at writing women in epic fantasy, without quotas, without the whole "my dragon is realistic but a woman who has a business and doesn't get assaulted is Historically Unbelievable" thing. I'm just starting it, but a friend recommended it.

Karen McCoy said...

nightsmusic and RachelErin nailed it--it's not just about description, but about pacing.

I was also reminded about another quote from an author about skeletons versus blobs. I tend to draft skeletal, and edit blobby--and my pacing usually ends up more quick than slow. I usually hit my stride around the fourth draft or so...and this post (and all the comments!) will help remind me what to keep and what to throw away.

And blurg, I wish they would stop killing major characters in sequels! A widely bestselling YA series does this too, but I probably shouldn't say which one...

Lisa Bodenheim said...

oh wow, Janet! errrrm, s'cuse me, QOTKU. Are you celebrating? It looks like a party here. So bright and cheery. Bring on the scotch and ice. Or is it too soon?

Colin Smith said...

Lisa: Well, there's Panda and Jenny C getting agents, there's Janet's blog being declared Most Awesomest Blog in the Known Universe by Writer's Digest... and probably other things I'm forgetting. Celebration? Sure! Why not? :)

Bethany Elizabeth said...

Thanks for that link Brigid - so cool!

And I love the new look! Orange is my favorite color, so I'm all up for bright and cheery.

Lisa Bodenheim said...

Brigid: thank you for that link. So much information. Bookmarked for later.

Karen: yes, I'm the way too. Tend to be skeletal in my 1st draft. Although, eep, 4th draft? whoo boy. I'm trying to get through the rest of my 2nd draft.

Colin: Yes, that's right. Thank you for the reminder. And it's Friday. Time to celebrate.

Julie Weathers said...

Word count, I stab at thee. So much so, I needed coffee before I could even attempt a reply.

Yes, I believe 64,000 words is probably going to be too short unless you have something like Bridges Of Madison County or The Christmas Box. However, the Shark has spoken and that should be all you need.

Far Rider, my high fantasy, is 139,000 words. The agent who prompted me to shelve it said it's YA but needs to be expanded pretty significantly. I know. It's like someone telling you, "I don't think the world is flat. Want to go sailing with me and prove we won't sail off the edge?"

Descriptions are important. All descriptions. Sensory descriptions are especially integral. Smells and touch are so important. It anchors a reader in the scene.

I use taste and scent so much in Rain Crow I thought people are going to think my little spy weighs 300 pounds, which would be interesting. So, I turned it into a joke about how much she enjoys food and the men paying court enjoy feeding her. That being said, eating scenes are tricky. Most are boring, so you need to make sure they're pulling their weight one way or the other.

Use sensory details to build your story. Sometimes it's good to put blindfolds on your readers and nose out what else they are observing.

E.M. Goldsmith said...

I do love the orange. It's surprisingly cheery. Is there cake? Did anyone bring cake? It is Friday, Janet is awesome, Panda and Jenny C have agents, and I stayed under 100 words which is on topic. So cake?

John Frain said...

I thought I was getting pranked. I opened up the new website to bright orange and started going through the comments and nobody even mentioned it! Alas, Sherwin Williams must have just shown up mid-morning. Love the look.

Cheers!

Sorry, I forgot about the actual topic. Oh word count. I've probably reached mine.

Julie Weathers said...

Holy crow. That's what I get for starting a comment and not finishing it until hours later. I refreshed and there are all those other comments and I've been transported back to the 60's.

SiSi said...

This new background will certainly help me wake up in the morning! I think this is the same wallpaper a friend had in her bedroom back in my teenage years.

Donnaeve said...

Good God. Am I having flashbacks?

(I'm deciding if I like it. Please don't tell me you've got a Razzle Dazzle background to test.)

Carolynnwith2Ns said...

Orange is my favorite color. What a great way to start my day. Oh yea, the posts are great too and the comments but orange and yellow and ... I just love it.

Carolynnwith2Ns said...

Sherwin Williams strikes again !!!

Donnaeve said...

Timothy Lowe - my eyeballs and brain were stunned by the color and I missed your question... DIXIE DUPREE was just over 92K as a polished/finished ms that went on submission. When it sold, it grew to just over 95K during the editing process with Kensington. My editor (John Scognamiglio) wanted to see me get into her head a bit more when it came her father.

Donnaeve said...

Ok Ms Janet, you're gonna have to allow for additional comments because I SEE now why the seemingly celebratory, colorful backdrop! A trophy! A Writer's Digest TROPHY sits in the upper left hand corner!

WHOOOHOO!

Susan Bonifant said...

I had NO idea it was swirly orange day. I shall change into clothing of an appropriate color.

The problem I have had with trying to change word count by doctoring certain aspects of the novel is winding up with uneven treatment of situations or people. I have the alley cats and sun-bleached awnings in one neighborhood, but just a lot of nice trees in the other.

After that first draft is completed and allowed to rest, it's possible to see a novel-wide flaw that results in over or under counts.

As for too-high word counts, I know my first drafts tend to be overweight because I'm "writing toward" knowing my characters on the page as well as I did in my head. I both love and hate that my story never winds up the way I envisioned it once my characters meet and take over.

Donnaeve said...

We need mood music. Might I suggest Aquarius?


https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oPK7ZF6jfJE

Colin Smith said...

Donna's contribution to the New Site Design Playlist:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oPK7ZF6jfJE

I'm not trying to blow the comments way off topic (which is like saying "I'm not trying to be rude" just before you say something incredibly rude), but anyone have any other tunes they'd like to add? :)

Lennon Faris said...

No time to read comments yet :/ but yes the smell and feel of a place will really make or break something for me.

I love this description on word count. So many times I treat it like the actual (annoying) issue instead of just a symptom.

Liking the orange!

Cheryl said...

Love the new colour scheme.

It's funny how so much writing advice is about paring down your word count by paring down your description, yet so many of us have the opposite problem.

For me, dialogue comes first; if I don't get the dialogue down I don't have a scene. So dialogue, a minimum of scenery, and emotion. Filling out the sensory description comes much later, like, third draft later. Because why bother filling out scene I might cut for plot reasons?

BJ Muntain said...

Congrats again, Janet! That trophy couldn't have gone to a better website!

Timothy Lowe said...

Thanks, Donna - interesting to hear about for one who hasn't been on such a wonderful part of the journey...yet. More about "getting in the head" - I'm glad I've been focusing on that more in the WIP!

Kae Bell said...

Colin, here is my musical suggestion for today's color scheme.

San Francisco (Be sure to wear flowers in your hair)

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bch1_Ep5M1s

Arri Frranklin said...

Congratulations! Friday celebration!

When I've edited in the past, I've both put in and taken away, leaving just a bit more than previously. My work currently under revision is almost 120K, so we'll see where that goes.

Julie Weathers said...

All right. I had mentor, editor, friend request first chapter of Rain Crow to look at and needed to do a quick edit. No, nothing professional to get excited about, but I value his opinion.

In celebration of Miss Janet's latest honor and trophy, a friend and I have been celebrating. Well done and well deserved, my friend. I know of no one who works harder to help aspiring authors here, at conferences, and behind the scenes. A true Wizard of Ahs. Now, I don't suppose you have any extra bail money tucked away do you?

Craig said...

I did have to mention drips and runs of Razzle Dazzle in my earlier post. Sorry about that.

Jenny C said...


Janet - Yes! It's true. The author kills off Mark Darcy. Just thinking about it makes me want to pop my disk of the 1995 Colin Firth BBC miniseries into the DVD player for an all-day P&P marathon to assure myself Mr. Darcy is alive and well at Pemberley.

CynthiaMc said...

I came from writing newspaper columns so I think in 500 word blocks. I write tight and then fill in.

I like dialogue and action and tend to roll my eyes if descriptions are too long. If it's a movie, I'll mutter "Oh, geez get ON with it!"

I will never forgive Disney for Old Yeller. Never.

And I will never kill the dog. People, yes. Dog, no.

DeadSpiderEye said...

Kinda surprised that three to seven thousand words adrift of a target, is perceived as a problem. Flippin' 'eck, send one of the characters to the beach for a day, solved. Actually, come to think of it, I do recall quite a few seaside jaunts that were extraneous to a narrative.

I can't describe the resentment that accrues through having to read through a bunch of piffle, to get through to the meat of narrative. Some authors it seems, should have headphones strapped to their head for a week, with the words of Mies van der Rohe echoing through their bonce. Contrariwise, creating tension and expectation through pacing, descriptive passages or other diversions is a highly effective technique. I suppose the lesson is, bad books are always too long, great books are always going to be too short.

Colin Smith said...

OK, here's a playlist for you, Janet. Turn the volume up!

Hole in My Shoe by Traffic
Itchycoo Park by The Small Faces
Green Tambourine by The Lemon Pipers
Incense and Peppermints by Strawberry Alarm Clock
San Francisco (Be Sure to Wear Flowers in Your Hair) by Scott McKenzie
Let's Go to San Francisco by The Flowerpot Men
Age of Aquarius by The Fifth Dimension
California Dreamin' by The Mamas & Papas
My White Bicycle by Tomorrow
Flowers in the Rain by The Move
Dizzy by Tommy Roe
59th Street Bridge Song (Feelin' Groovy) by Simon and Garfunkel

Julie Weathers said...

DeadSpiderEye

The point is not to add words. The point is to add words that work. It's like telling a wrestler to add 20 pounds of muscle as opposed to telling me to add 20 pounds of fat.

I always overwrite but I don't worry about it much because I know on revisions I will rearrange sentences and words to lean it out. It's like tying on to a railroad tie and backing your horse. They may have muscles in most of the right places, but that fine tuning builds up muscles in those hard places, in this case the inside gaskin or inner hind leg.

It all needs to work and not just add flabby mass.

Claire said...

With respect to some of the comps mentioned previously, The Christmas Box has fewer than 14,000 words. The Bridges of Madison County clocks in at well under 40,000. The OP's novel has 67,000. At that length it's hardly an outlier.

Julie Weathers said...

Claire,

The point I was making is short isn't always bad if there's a story, but there must be a story.

At the time those came out everyone talked about how short they were and people were amazed a publisher even looked at them. However, they had stories that touched people. We had some lengthy discussions on the forums about it. There were a fair share of people swooping in and complaining about how unfair it was.

Most of the old war horses realize if it works it works and sometimes magic breaks all the rules. It's better to be the word wizard who creates the magic than the one who complains magic was created.

Amy Schaefer said...

Yes, put some flesh on those story bones. That's half the fun of editing - building that mental picture for the reader without overdescribing, dropping hints about character... sometimes I think I fight through a first draft just so I can go back and make a story good. (Even now I'd like to edit that sentence: do I really want to say "tell a story right?")

Now, I love the fun new blog background, I do. But a little warning might have been nice; I nearly choked on my coffee when those bright colours pierced my eyeballs at 6am.

SiSi said...

Janet, congratulations on the well-deserved Writer's Digest award!

Colin, great playlist! Might I suggest adding "Good Vibrations" by the Beach Boys?

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mdt0SOqPJcg

Jen said...

Whoa! I leave this blog for a few hours and everything turns orange and swirly.

[Looks down at Scotch]

[Looks up at blog]

More Scotch, I think... :-)

DeadSpiderEye said...

Julie Weathers:

I had to look up gaskin, dobbin is a mystery to me outside flat season.

Lucie Witt said...

This is the first time I'm able to look at the blog on my computer instead of my phone - so bright and cheery! And the award is much deserved.

To the topic at hand, a "perfect" book doesn't need extra description no matter how short it is. But I think for the vast majority of writers, a book that is too far below (or above) the word count norms is evidence of a bigger issue with the book. And I say this as someone who has never written a book over 93k and who doesn't like excessive description.

Just for fun, with my current WIP (YA contemporary):
1st draft: 55k
2nd draft: 71k
(lots and lots of drafts)
Draft where I cut out filler words (just/really): 69k
Draft where I work in last rounds of beta feedback: 72k

Donnaeve said...

Colin, what does it say about me if I have over 50% of that playlist on my iPod?

:)

Jammin' away over here.

Lilac Shoshani said...

YAY!!! Congratulations, Janet! And your website is absolutely awesome. Everything is so inviting and warm…I love it.

The song that comes to mind is "You Are the Sunshine of My Life" by Stevie Wonder:

You are the sunshine of my life
That's why I'll always be around,
You are the apple of my eye,
Forever you'll stay in my heart

I think that this verse captures how all of us feel about you. <3

It's also a good song for dancing. I dance for you, Janet!

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4voyw_guvPM

Julie Weathers said...

Sorry, Deadeye. (Yes, I know the difference, buy you just sound so much more dangerous as Deadeye.)

The verification thing had me pick out rv vehicles. I failed. I guess that jumbo jet is only an rv vehicle for people who grow their hair here.

kdjames.com said...

Holy Exploding Dreamsicle, Batman! I think my older sister had a pair of pants just like this background, back in middle school. Between that memory and Colin's playlist (that sister's fav song at one time was Incense and Peppermints), we've discovered the [sunglasses] fountain of youth over here.

In a very broad historical sense, I think physical description is less necessary since the advent of TV and movies and the internet. When someone writes a scene set in the desert, for instance, I've seen images of deserts and have a good idea of setting even if I've never seen a desert in real life. I'm more interested in knowing how a select few details of the place reveal/affect the character than in reading about every single cactus and grain of sand. Make sure the details have importance.

The thing that's more difficult for me, and I suspect for a lot of writers, is describing the inner landscape of emotions. Not just thoughts, but feelings. For me, that's what really adds depth and resonance to a story.


Theresa said...

Congratulations, Janet. This is a great blog.

What wonderful celebratory swirls!

Donnaeve said...

Colin, last song to add from me - if you want to add that is...another Tommy Rowe - too good to pass up!


Sweet Pea: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JCKXxJRgVgc


(I can almost see all the young'un's out here going whaaa? I never heard this stuff)


AJ Blythe said...

I see the template image is by "molotovcoketail". Fitting.

But I do love how cheerful and bright it is here. Although it makes me think 'don't follow the light'. After all, it is a shark tank!

Jennifer R. Donohue said...

We actually had a conversation in my writer's workshop....last Saturday? The week before? On how long a novel "should" be, and how in a way it's genre based, and what may be too short, etc. I of course referred everybody here and said "This is where I get a lot of the information I'm giving you." This blog is on all of my "recommended Writing Things™" lists.

May I actually recommend the High Standard cover of California Dreamin'?

Congrats on the Writer's Digest award! Well deserved.

Additionally, I was book ordering today, and I spied with my little eye a book coming in May by Madame Sharque's client Gary Corby.

Julie Weathers said...

KD,

Yes, everyone knows what a desert looks like, but I was at Surrey last year when Jack Whyte started reading a first page in a desert setting. The author went on with the description, the MC setting up her canvas to paint a desert sunset (which was described in glorious detail) and at the end of the page...someone arrived like a harbinger of doom.

I watched the agents because I knew the story and kept thinking, "Don't say stop. Don't say stop." They didn't. They started leaning forward the further Jack read, hanging on each word.

She got cards from agents who told her they didn't care that it wasn't finished. Send it when it was ready. They really wanted it.

She did such a good job of setting up the beauty and the foreboding of the place it was really hard to let it go. It certainly could have been described as, "Arabella lived in the desert", but I doubt that would have got the requests.

Craig said...

I Wear My Sunglasses At Night might be the most apropos song for this.

I think it is a plot to keep the amount of comments down by hurting our brains.

kdjames.com said...

Julie, you're proving my point. If your MC is an artist, a painter, then all that visual description and the glorious details of a sunset will be important to the character. Of course you'd include it. But I suspect the writer did not ALSO describe all the various cacti and lizards and snakes and detail which ones were poisonous, or maybe didn't describe how hot and dry the air was, or how far it was to the nearest source of water and how many days it would take to get there if she had to walk, or detail who owned the land and how they acquired it. In a different story, those other details might be important.

To use Janet's example of a truck littered with fast food wrappers and beer bottles, if you're in the POV of a character who is a major gear-head, it's likely they aren't going to notice that mess. They're going to notice the souped up engine and the purr or roar of the engine and how fast it can get from zero to whatever. What a character notices defines them. Deciding which details to include is important. I'm not saying not to describe things. I'm saying you can't simply include ALL of the details and think you've done a good job.

(I don't think we're disagreeing here; I maybe didn't do a good job of explaining myself.)

Colin Smith said...

Jennifer: I've had THE SINGER FROM MEMPHIS by Gary Corby on pre-order since December.

Yes, I'm a fan. :D

Megan V said...

Ouch! My eyes got chomped by a shark and spit out by a dragon.

All this to say, I can't decide if I like the background. I like the swirls. This orange is a bit bright for me though. It actually hurts a bit to stare at the screen. Ah well. Nothing could keep me from reading the amazing content in any case.

Panda in Chief said...

I rather like the new background. It is very cheery!
Congrats on the Writer's Digest award. They didn't ask me, but I would have given it to you too.

Happy weekend everyone. Now it's beer thirty, but tomorrow I need to work. I have pandas to draw.

Julie Weathers said...

KD,

Actually all those details are there although not crammed onto the first page. It's an unforgiving land reminiscent of Dune. She's the leader of people who are being destroyed. While she's describing what to her is the rugged beauty in land no one else would want if not for a rare mineral, it reflects her desperate situation. It's a masterful weaving of description and emotion, artist and doomed leader painting her last sunset.

Personally, I think most skilled authors will reflect the emotions in the descriptions or use a detail that is in stark contrast to the emotion.

The aftermath of a raging battle. The colonel could take in all the carnage, but instead notices the ragdoll lying in the road with its missing arm.




Kae Ridwyn said...

Wow!!! Janet - I am LOVING this background!

And congratulations on the Writer's Digest award; it couldn't have been given to anyone more deserving!

Re the addition of description, I most like Chuck Wendig's thoughts:

1. The reader will fill in many of the details that I don't; I need to give the reader the details she can't supply herself;

2. Abnormalities are the details that matter most. The details that defy audience expectation are the ones that matter... for example, the mouse crawling around in the sink (in the public restroom); and

3. Each detail has text and subtext. The text is what it is ("a toilet") and the subtext adds to the deeper story ("The toilet's clogged and broken like everything else in this building, spilling water over the bowl rim") by adding to the overall atmosphere and theme.

There's nothing like rodent and toilet references to drive the point home!

Good luck, OP!

Mark Ellis said...

Sherwin Williams called, and what we've got here is: Writerly Beige; Iowa Kernals; Blood(on the keyboard)Orange; Synopsis Tan; Query Buff; Peeled Onion; and R&R Taupe.

Donna, I too briefly feared a flashback; no worries, it was a good trip.

Steve Stubbs said...

Congratulations on the award logo. Very prestigious andwell deserved.

Her Grace, Heidi, the Duchess of Kneale said...

Plot beats. Ultimately, this is the true measurement of a novel's length. If you don't have enough plot beats, you don't have enough story to call it a novel.

"Marry Me" is a novella at 20K (enforced by my publisher. I took out a subplot, alas). My Regency Romance is a nice comfortable 82K, and the pacing is comfortable. My Fantasy clocks in at 125K, and that's after I pared it down. Guess which book my beta-readers declare the fastest-paced? Yep, the one with the tightest plot beats.

If you were to take your story down to the bare bones, what would the plot beats look like? (Hint, this is a good way of writing that synopsis someone's gonna want at some time.)

If your story was plot-based (as opposed to character-based), have you followed the Three Act Structure? Most good stories do, because it provides a natural-feeling structure. You don't have to follow TAS, but it does help.

Do you have subplots? Novels have subplots--yep, every single one. If you're worried about word length, throw in a(nother) connected subplot.

Once you've got your plot beats sorted, then you can lather on the beautiful description that makes your story come alive.

P.S.: love the orange.

P.P.S.: Mark Darcy dies? Honestly people, spoilers!

AJ Blythe said...

Sherwin Williams is a paint shop! Reading these comments I've been wondering who *he* was... thanks google ;)

Brian M. Biggs said...

Wow! Love the Blog's new look. Is that Colin's work? No,I bet it's that creative side of you, QOTKU, just come popping out on TAX DAY. It's so exciting. Makes me want to send you a question. Reminds me of the bridles and halters curled around those empty Coors bottles on the floor of my Ford pickup.

Also, congratulations on the Writers Digest Award.