Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Word count: This book is supposed to be how many words?

At some time or other most authors struggle with word count. The story has to contain a certain amount of plot, enough characterization that readers understand the motives of the characters and find them likeable, and, if it’s a romance novel, a strong chemical relationship between the main characters. For an erotic novel this means the couple needs to get up close and personal with each other. For a mainstream novel it may be more glances across a room and facial expressions. But all of the above must be in the word count, clearly and demonstrably.
Sooner or later most authors discover their short novel is becoming very long, or that their category-length novel is all finished with 10,000 words still needing to be written. This is where the critical eye of an editor can be useful. Editors are trained to notice where plot threads remain unfulfilled or more characterization, more back story could be added. Or another action scene.
They can also point out scenes that are just padding. Nice to read but that don’t move the story forward at all and could be deleted. If the book is much, much too long it may be possible to cut it into two short stories.
Or maybe the book is fine the way it is, and the author should just submit it to their publisher but not for that submission call, or to a different publisher who prefers the length the book ended up.
The worst possible response is for the author to try to wrangle a perfectly good book into an obviously wrong-for-it word count.

Helen Woodall

Helen is available to line edit and/ or content edit fiction and non-fiction. Rates on application.


Anny Cook said...

Hmmmmm. I've been down that road a time or two...

Cindy Spencer Pape said...

Yeah--thank goodness for editors! They've saved my butt more times than I can count.

Helen Woodall: Freelance Editing said...

Characters do have a tendency to run off and do their own thing. Or stand in a corner pouting and refusing to play. Sometimes the author is just too close to the book to work out the solution. Other times the book is perfect the length it ended up.