25 February, 2011
Counting the Words
I am a bit of a statistics geek so I love my word counts! I was worried that for a novel for children, 98 000 words (the length of the draft I am working from) is too long but the author who critiqued part of it for me, assures me it isn't. I am pleased, however, to be cutting down a fair few thousand in this version anyway. About 100 000 words is normal for adult pop fiction (e.g crime and thrillers) and fantasy tends to be a bit longer, but word counts on children's books vary from really short to really quite long. On the Harry Potter scale (that all children's writers will be doomed to be compared to for eternity) my book will be just a smidge longer than The Chamber of Secrets but shorter than all the following ones (particularly The Order of the Phoenix which has over a quarter of a million words in it) and shorter than the books in the His Dark Materials trilogy by Philip Pullman. I'm happy with that.
In his book, On Writing, Stephen King says that one of the best bits of advice he was given was: second draft = first draft -10%. I try and bear that in mind when I'm writing. The first time I wrote this story it came out at just over 100 000 words, so if it's close to 90 000 I hope I will have made Mr. King proud. But how do you cut down so much? Well, another piece of advice he was given early in his career was, "When you write a story, you're telling yourself the story. When you rewrite, your main job is taking out all the things that are not the story." You know what that means folks: all those adjectives and adverbs that you lovingly put in to make the prose more interesting but really just slow the story, that great metaphor that is a creative masterpiece but has no place in the narrative, that elaborate bit of scene-setting that shows off your technical wizardry but bores your reader stupid, all those needless bits of dialogue that are merely pleasantries (contrary to popular opinion I think that if you make dialogue strictly realistic you end up with a lot of wasted words - we don't talk as economically as we should write!) - they all have to go. It doesn't matter how good something is, if it doesn't move the plot forward it's out. I am in the middle of this process: the process of killing my darlings.
I have found quite a bit of wasted conversation in the draft of my novel so that's obviously one of my writing sins. What are your worst word-wasters? Or, if you're not a writer, what's your equivalent to having to kill off the words you've so lovingly slaved over?