Tuesday, August 1, 2017

It doesn't hurt to delete words, honestly.

By R.J. Harlick

Do you write to a specific pre-determined manuscript length? Does your publisher require you to stay within a word-count range?

No, I haven't had a facelift. She's a friend of mine. I'll tell you her intriguing story at the end of this blog, but first I'll answer the question.

Since starting out on this writing adventure, I’ve never paid much attention to word count in the writing of the first draft. I just write until the story is finished. But surprisingly I find that most of my first drafts end up being between 95,000 to 100,000 in length. Many of my author friends have also noticed that their first drafts usually end up at about the same length, be it 70,000, 80,000 or whatever number of words. I take this to mean that we all have a word count with which we are comfortable in the telling of a story.  

Often, for me, this word count will increase during the second draft revisions as I flesh out the characters, add more colour to the setting and refine the story. Sometimes the word count can increase by as much as 10,000 words, which leaves me with a problem. My publisher’s contract usually stipulates that the word count be 90,000 words. So the fun begins.

As much as I hope it would, I find pulling my hair out, wringing my hands and crying doesn’t work. The only way I can reduce the number of words down to the 90,000 my publisher wants is through the cold, hard deletion of words no matter how much I think they are the best I have ever written.

The first time I was faced with the task of removing over 10,000 words, I was convinced it was impossible until my editor suggested I break it down into manageable chunks like removing 100-150 words per chapter. It became almost too easy. I let go of my attachment to the words and objectively removed any that were redundant or didn’t contribute to the ongoing movement of the story.  It made for a much tighter, crisper narrative. And believe it or not, I quite enjoyed doing it. Even if I didn’t have to reduce the word count for my publisher, it is something I would still do during the third draft revisions. I highly recommend it for all writers.

Now for something more magical. As part of Canada 150 celebrations, this past weekend my home town of Ottawa was visited by a couple of monstrous critters who enchanted the entire city while they lumbered through the downtown core for four days.  The critters were Long Ma, a 45 tonne, fire breathing, dragon-horse robotic puppet and Kumo, a similarly weighty spider robotic puppet.  Both were manned by a host of handlers who rode on top of them and were accompanied by a travelling orchestra. Towering a good two stories above the crowd, they breathed smoke on the audience while they enacted a play on the streets of Ottawa.  They are the brain child of La Machine, a French theatre company.  Though this is their first North American appearance, I have little doubt that they will appear again in other towns. To see them in action go to the Ottawa 2017 LaMachine facebook page and watch the various videos that have been posted. The photos are courtesy of CBC Ottawa.


Unknown said...

I like cutting too. It's satisfying to get down to what you really wanted to say. re the dragon and spider, I would love to see them in action :)

Paul D. Marks said...

I think with every pass you take at a story you see new things that can be cut, at least that's how it works with me. When you first look at the whole it seems massive and like there's nothing that can be cut. But then you get and start seeing the "trees" instead of the "forest" and there are always things to cut. And once you go through and make your first cut/s you'll more things that can be cut with every pass. I think...