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Does your MS go up or down in size?

Posted: February 23rd, 2010, 2:10 am
by casnow
Perhaps I'm just being the typical guy when I start to think about the size of my novel... I look at the puny 60,376 words that it took to completely tell the story that I had outlined, and I can't help but think, this thing needs to be bigger. The problem is though, that every time I add anything to it, I just feel like I'm fluffing it up and not adding real substance. Sadly, I've noticed that my manuscripts only go one direction in size, and that is down. My first (lame) attempt at a novel went from 90k to 80k, and then to 74k after editing. This one went from 60k to 58k and no back to just over 60k during the two rounds of editing I've done so far.

So, my question for all of you, is how many of you actually see an increase in your manuscript's length after you complete the first draft?

If you do see an increase, where does it come from? Adding scenes? Adding descriptions? Backstory? Modifying everything to passive voice because you're as insecure as I am about size? (just kidding, I'd never use passive voice).

Anyhow, just wondering how many of you out there get through with your novel only to find out that its size is terrifyingly close to unpublishable?

Re: Does your MS go up or down in size?

Posted: February 23rd, 2010, 2:35 am
by Jaime
LOL, Casnow (passive voice)! ;)

My MS was originally 175K words, and I now have it down to 121K. I think both adding and subtracting would be difficult. What sort of genre is this MS? I think out of all the options you've jotted down, adding scenes would be best. Some people/agents get bored with too many descriptions, and sometimes too much backstory - if not necessary - slows the story down too much. Most of my words come from trying to determine the best direction for my story. Often I'll just write, and write . . . and write, but then decide I want it to go a different way. I keep all of my edited pieces, though, just in case those certain scenes or conversations can find a home later on, without changing the direction of the story.

Man, that probably makes no sense at all . . .

Do you enjoy spending time with your characters? Maybe try this: Sit down and put them together for a conversation. Place them in a pub, or a park, or at a crime scene, or wherever they generally hang out . . . and have them talk to see what they come up with. Maybe there'll be some jokes, some tension, some discoveries about other characters that you can find a home for in your edited MS?

Re: Does your MS go up or down in size?

Posted: February 23rd, 2010, 2:51 am
by tameson
My formal training in writing is a science writer (which I hate with a passion and actually all things science so I don't do that anymore) but even then I was told that I was too brief (and science writers are always being told by their bosses to tighten it). So, my current novel, I wrote the end after 55k. I had several scenes that went like this "A week in prison passed. Bob was miserable, but the constant companionship of his sworn enemy Joe made it livable. Now free, he couldn't imagine ever wanting to attack Joe again." The most important character growth was summed up in a lovely 3 sentences. So, that obviously needed some expansion. After hitting those really obvious, chapter length expansions, I was up to 70k. Now I am going through and fixing and rewriting and if I stopped now (with 9 chapters still not changed), I would be at 83k. Generally, I have been showing a lot more, telling less. On the last chapter, I have no clue how I ended up longer on the rewrites. I cut tons of paragraphs of the main character telling us how she felt. I thought I replaced with just one or two line descriptions that showed better, but somehow it ended up longer. I did some smoothing as well in the transitions and a little more description. I am thinking I will end at about 90k, continuing at this rate. And my beta read has started reading the rewritten chapters and asked "where you going to gave any description of anything or am I supposed to fill it in?" So, I am thinking on the next pass, I will expand a bit more as well, since obviously people need more. So, for me, the weakness is descriptions. I have none. And showing vs telling. Oh, I did add two subplots in my head for this go through, but I have not actually written those in (except for maybe 200 words of foreshadowing). They will take place in those last 9 chapters I haven't got to yet.

Re: Does your MS go up or down in size?

Posted: February 23rd, 2010, 6:34 am
by Holly
casnow wrote:Perhaps I'm just being the typical guy when I start to think about the size of my novel...

Tameson's comments and scene example are great. Show, don't tell.

Show, don't tell. Show, don't tell. Show, don't tell.

Do you have any subplots you can develop?

After I finished my first draft (okay, 20th draft), I weed-whacked 87,000 words down to 80,000. Then I asked an editor to check it. She said it has a structural problem -- I tell the story from several POVs and wait too long to make the first couple of POV changes. So I'm adding a new first chapter and four to five small scenes (meaning 1-2 pages or less). The novel will end up around 87,000 words again.

Re: Does your MS go up or down in size?

Posted: February 23rd, 2010, 7:18 am
by Holly
One more comment.

I try to remember that writing is entertainment, even serious writing. You have to keep the reader's attention.

A lot of the "fluff stuff" does just that -- keeps the reader turning pages. Little details -- what the characters are wearing, eating and drinking, what the room and the street look like -- might seem dumb or unnecessary, but they add suspense or sparkle and keep the reader going.

Re: Does your MS go up or down in size?

Posted: February 23rd, 2010, 8:50 am
by Seamus
I identify with tameson. My day job requires me to write with stiletto-sharp brevity. By the time I get to my fiction keyboard, I have to slow down, have a glass of wine, and show the reader that my story has flesh. My edits almost always require me to do what I call "warming up" my story. This isn't really by embellishing. Rather, it's changing "he said" to "he said, unable to avert his gaze from the large wart on her nose." (Okay, that was really lame, but you get the idea.) I guess what I end up doing is breathing more evidence of life into my prose when I revise.

Re: Does your MS go up or down in size?

Posted: February 23rd, 2010, 9:27 am
by gilesth
What a coincidence...I just blogged about this today :D

If the entire plot is engaging and entertaining and there in the manuscript, then 60k words isn't a bad my opinion. Personally, adding length just happened to my manuscript as I worked out what needed to be seen in the world I'd created. Since I wrote a fantasy story, setting descriptions and the protagonist's thoughts on them needed to be in the story to make sure that the reader knew what the world looked like...and of course it needed to be done in a way that wasn't boring. Hence the protagonist's thoughts.

Have you had any beta readers look over your manuscript? If the problem I had with my first draft is what's making your manuscript too short, beta readers should be able to tell you :). They can give you an excuse to add scenes and descriptions you may not have known were necessary because you already know what the world looks like in your head. I hope that's helpful.

Re: Does your MS go up or down in size?

Posted: February 23rd, 2010, 11:20 am
by adtabb
Well, I have one complete at 41,400 words. It is out for a Beta read. Honestly, there is nothing else, the story reaches its end. I can see one tiny scene, as part of another story, maybe 1,000 words and 14 years later.

I have no idea how people write 100,000 words on any topic (have a blog post on this set for next week).

I tend to write skeletal, and have to find ways to expand my skeleton and flesh it out.

Re: Does your MS go up or down in size?

Posted: February 23rd, 2010, 12:14 pm
by craig
My edits and rewrites only make my word count grow. When I read through my first draft and work to make it better, I often find I've been skimpy on details and mood in my effort to get all the dialogue and action perfect. So my rewrites tend to leave the dialogue and action alone, but adds a ton to the spaces in between to amp up the dark mood and to create more vivid imagery.

Also, I've got a running tally in my head of things that need to be done that will only make the text longer. I've changed some details about the setting, which will require considerably more description and will change some of the action along the way. I think I may have dropped a very minor character that should probably emerge again somewhere later in the MS. And as I establish new details about characters, I need to go back and make these details consistent throughout. So, yeah, that's gonna up the word count.

Re: Does your MS go up or down in size?

Posted: February 23rd, 2010, 3:44 pm
by shadow
Mine stayed the same after the rewrtie I did. Actually I am 7 chapters away from the end so I am soo excited. Will post my query here!

Re: Does your MS go up or down in size?

Posted: February 23rd, 2010, 4:31 pm
by marilyn peake
Up until now, editing hasn’t changed the overall word count of my manuscripts too much, as it usually involved tightening up the wording and checking for typos and grammar mistakes. It’s hard to say what the case will be with my latest science fiction novel, though. In order to expand the political thriller aspects, I’m replacing entire characters with new characters, e.g. removing a baker and adding a Senator and news reporter.

casnow – Many modern books are 60,000 words or less. If the book is good, 60,000 words may be fine.

Re: Does your MS go up or down in size?

Posted: February 24th, 2010, 12:18 am
by casnow
Marilyn - I personally think that it's 60k words of perfection.... which isn't bad for something that is 60,376 words long :) The thing that worries me is that the competition for representation and traditional publication is so intense that I would hate to have someone say, "I like it, but I'm not going to risk my time on something that short."

Truthfully, I wasn't worried about it until in a writing class I'm in, the instructor made a comment saying something along the lines that anything under 80k doesn't have a chance these days.

Re: Does your MS go up or down in size?

Posted: February 24th, 2010, 8:51 am
by JustineDell
Yeah - SHOW, don't tell. That will make a HUGE difference in word count.

My first MS started out at just over 70K and after five rounds of re-writes it's up to 81K. Overall, the count would go down, then up, down then up. My big thing was noticing I would "tell" people about something important when I could "show" them with dialogue from the characters. Several new scenes were added this way- thus the new, higher, word count.

I feel your pain though with a short word count, especially if you feel the story is all there (with showing as well). I have one that's just under 50K and literally - there's nothing that can be added. It just ended up being a short story. Sometimes that happens. It may not be the writing, it may just be the story.


Re: Does your MS go up or down in size?

Posted: February 24th, 2010, 5:02 pm
by marilyn peake
casnow – That’s interesting information from your writing class instructor. I’ve bought quite a few short books lately, but maybe those are the exception rather than the rule to what publishers are looking for.

Re: Does your MS go up or down in size?

Posted: February 24th, 2010, 6:06 pm
by wilderness
Interesting topic. I hear so much about bloated manuscripts that I thought I was the only one who suffered from novel anorexia! (Not that I think 60K is too short, it really depends on the book and what you're going for).

I tend to write short descriptions and concentrate on the dialogue, picturing the scene like in a movie. In some ways, this is great. No one would complain that my pacing was too boring! However, I did find that going back and adding more depth to the descriptions made the novel flow much better. I also had better luck with my partial after fleshing out the scenes just a little bit.

I think the trick is to recognize whether the pacing is either too bogged down or your scenes are too abrupt. I wouldn't worry so much about the actual word count, as long as you are within a reasonable length (I've heard 60K - 100K is the norm, sci fi is sometimes longer and YA tends to be shorter).

By the way, I anticipate I will soon face the other problem; my latest project is to convert my sister's rather long fantasy novel into a screenplay. I think we're going to hit that 2 hour length too easily!

Good luck!