Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Making Up The Word Count: My Top Ten Tips

Frankie’s post, Revising with “The Raven” last week was brilliant. I love the idea of synchronicity. In fact, some of my best plot twists are sparked from watching television programs – and they don’t have to be mysteries, either. It could be a re-run of “Bewitched” or a topic on a talk show.

My process for revising is very similar to Frankie’s and I love it, too. A young woman I work with told me she was writing a book. Recently, I asked her how it was coming along. “Oh! I’ve finished,” she said with a big smile to which I replied, “Congratulations! The hard part is over. Now the fun begins.” She looked at me blankly and said, “No. It’s done. I’m done.” She had written one draft and that was that. She had no intention or desire to write another. I’m not sure if she got published … I’ll ask her …

So I have my first - seriously grim - draft. Actually, it’s the second draft really because the first one is just throwing words and ideas down on paper. As an aside … for those who know and love  Bird by Bird, Ann Lamott's classic book on writing, here is what she has to say on Shitty First Drafts. It’s worth reading.

But I digress. This second draft is 50,000 words. I need to add in another 20,000 or 25,000 to reach my goal of 75,000. For those unfamiliar with word=page count, that will bring it up to approximately 300 pages.

So, my next step is to add in texture and layers. Here are my top ten tips for making up the word count:
  1. Add a new complication. For example, “what is the worst thing that could happen?” Even something simple like losing car keys or waking up with the flu works. It can take the story in a totally different and unexpected direction.
  2. Add in transitioning scenes or expand scenes you’ve just glossed over. These could include fleshing out a character as long as it doesn’t become fluff-and-filler.
  3. Add another goal or change a goal for a major character.
  4. Complicate the villain situation. Remember, the villain is a hero in his own story. Try to understand his point-of-view.
  5. Take a look at your supporting characters. Can you give them more to do? Kill one off? People get killed for four reasons: They have something. They heard something. They know something. They said something.
  6. Add a non-combat scene between the hero and main antagonist.
  7. Explore mistaken beliefs. Writing guru Lisa Cron tells us is to ask these two questions. "What is actually going on in the story’s “real” world?" and "What does each character believe is going on and how does that make each character act in that scene?"
  8. Make your setting more real by slipping in tiny nuggets of information – economics, social history or culture and, in my books, unusual British customs. 
  9. Add in a plot twist. This could be a secret relationship, a past trauma or past crime, an illness or disability or a hidden phobia or weakness.
  10. And finally - add in weather. In deference to Elmore Leonard’s rule of “Don’t open with weather” I think sprinkling it in is acceptable.


Frankie Y. Bailey said...


Sorry I missed your post on Wednesday. "Brilliant" would have made my day. I was off struggling with my first draft. I love your post and am about to print out your list to think about as I'm editing.
I need to cut about 10,000 words, but who knows what ideas I might get as I ponder.

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