Friday, March 15, 2013

On Word Count and Other Matters


Greetings all.
Thanks so much for all the great comments regarding “Debbie Downer and the Dreaded Don’ts” What fun it was to read your comments and I must say I did enjoy flipping the established pedantry the collective bird.  We are such rebels, aren’t we?  Take that Elmore!!! And that!!!  We are artists!  We shall not be conservative with exclamation marks!!  Hyah!!!!

Some of you may remember my blog entitled “Force-Feeding the Classics”.  Many had fond memories of “Where the Red Fern Grows” in particular.  Well, I force-fed it to my eleven year old and was surprised by how much eye-rolling and groaning accompanied the enforced reading.  It began with making fun of the rather stodgy picture of Wilson Rawls on the back.  (He did look like a bit like a rat-pack gangster.) Then she had the audacity to guffaw at the names “Old Dan” and “Little Ann.”  Eventually she ended up siding with the raccoons!  ("Who’d want to spend two years working to buy dogs just so you could go out and kill raccoons?!  They’re adorable!!")
 

I finally told her she didn’t have to finish the damn thing but she wanted to find out why everyone always makes such a fuss about the ending and “those dogs better not die after all the time and energy I am putting into reading this book!”  I let her off the hook and that one went back to the library unfinished.  Experiment over.  Back to fairy-land for her.  (Note to readers:  I didn’t re-read it either.)

Lastly a poll:  Do you feel the need to be brief when you write?  I’ve noticed as I’m hitting the 50,000 word-mark in my WIP there’s this nagging feeling that I am taking too long to tell my story.  Now this may stem from a life-time of talking too much, and being told I need to stop talking so much, or it could just be the desire to expedite the story and get to the end already--fer cryin’ out loud! 


The guy in the turtleneck over at Writer’s Digest tells me I’m already past the acceptable word-count mark for MG fiction and explains it is because I don’t know how to edit.  However, Turtleneck assures me that YA word count is “very flexible” but to still shoot for 55,000 to 70,000 words.  Any more than that and I’m “playing with fire”.   
A very nice editor named Jessica over at Bookends made me feel a trifle better with her realistic post on Word Count.  She went for an overall of 80,000. I can live with that—I think.

Well, what’s your feel on this topic Peeps?  Do you pay word counts no-never-mind?  Do you aim for a required number or do you bunch of rabble-rousers fly your own kite in the face of such creative communism?  Weigh in below.  What are you and yours tipping the scales at?  (Yes, I know I ended a sentence with a preposition and somewhere Elmore Leonard is developing a sick headache!!!)

~Just Jill (!!)
 

 

26 comments:

  1. No idea the word count on young adult. But if I can hit between 75,000 and 80,000, I'm feeling good!
    If she wasn't enjoying the book, no need to torture both of you. Maybe Black Beauty instead?

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    1. She loved Black Beauty but that was before the need for anything having to do with the Sidhe appeared.
      Thanks for stopping by Cap'n.
      Always an honor.
      ~Just Jill

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  2. Now I must go back and reread Debbie Downer and the Dreaded Don'ts… Something to look forward to. How came I to miss it?

    Force-feeding is never a good idea…except that it sometimes bears fruit. I remember in 10th grade, when I was…let me see…fifteen years old, we were required to read A Tale of Two Cities. I groaned my way through the sessions where we found deep, sexual meaning - "a-HA!!! the number three signifies the Trinity!!! Strawberries signify sex!" - and resolved never, ever to read anything else by Dickens, Heaven help me! But then, during the summer, I thought, 'Wait a minute. Is it really as bad as all that?' I went back and read it again. What a fabulous story! Layer upon layer and I with my heart in my mouth and finally sobbing as Sydney Carton dies. Actually, I was crying when he confessed his love for the heroine. Poor man! The point is that I was exposed to it. It worked. But boy! What a lousy teacher!

    I think you need to use as many words as necessary to tell the story skillfully and satisfyingly. That does not mean that you need to cut your lyrical prose down to Hemingway-esque briefness (IMHO) but that for its form and type, all should move the story along without unnecessary dawdling. That said. I am currently editing Pharaoh's Son (it's one of my books) at the advice of an editor, moving chapters around and keeping an eye out for duplicative prose. It's been an awakening. The book was 128K words.

    And… I am embarrassed to admit this…a beginning writer has come out with a book that interests me. It's in an historical period I'm comfortable with, deals with controversial characters and has the most interesting 'read' on their relationship. The problem is that it is 750 pages long, on a kindle. Conservatively speaking, 750 pages x 250 wpp = 187,500 words. Yowza! And yet I would love to read and review it. She writes well. She describes every little thing a little too much. I may yet get a copy, read it and review it - if I can give a good review.

    Hm. So don't be bound by numbers. (Was that coherent? Oh, dear…)

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    1. Very coherent as always Diana Dear. Spot on in so many ways. (Though your word count was a little high...)
      ~Just Jill

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  3. I had a similar experience with The Little House on the Prairie books. I tried to read them to my daughter and it was torture. For both of us. I LOVED those books when I was a kid and yet....I've found things since that I like even more.

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    1. Now those were a hit. We read them twice, but that was back when I was the reader and it was a cozy mummy/daughter thing to do. now we just read the same books, separately. Sigh. We all have our canon don't we?
      Thanks for stopping by, Johanna.
      ~Just Jill

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  4. I see you found the drawing of me and my muse :)

    Most of my novels come in around the 85K mark. But they're not MG. They're mystery/suspense. Some are a little shorter, and some a little longer. Just depends.

    Happy Weekend!

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    1. Thanks for stopping by and putting in your two cents Carol!
      ~Just Joll

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  5. I need that muse, and can I get one in the pantry to keep me from eating the cookies?

    Confession: I've never read Where the Red Fern Grows.

    I don't write linearly so I never really know if I'm being too wordy or not until I put it all together, but since I tend to run short on my first draft and have to flesh out later it's not much of an issue.

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    1. One pantry muse coming up: It's a pair of too-small pants. (Get it?)
      ~Just Jill

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  6. Um, yeah, I definitely tend to be a bit wordy. The first "finished" draft of my novel was about 125,000 words... WAY too much. Then I pared it down to 100K... then it was back up to 102. Each rewrite chopped off a little bit more after that, and I'm sitting on about 88K now, and I think that's gonna be the final count.

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  7. Well Dear Susan, I've read you (your blog actually) and every word is judicially metered and deliciously placed. I'm going to pop over to your little slice of Heaven now and see if I can uncover what kind of WIP you have going...
    ~Just Jill

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  8. Word count is such a dilemma. My WIP first draft finished at 102,000 for a middle-grade historical. I've pared it down to 87,000 and had about a dozen kids the right age read it at a charter school. I ask them all the same question -- What can I cut? The answer is always the same. Don't cut anything! The kids love it. But, I can't get any response from agents or editors and I'm sure the word count is the problem. It's a very linear story and, honestly, I can't figure out where to cut. It's been through three critique groups, including full reads, and nobody can figure out what to cut and they all love it. What to do, what to do.

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  9. I write adult fiction/fantasy, so I'm usually writing over 100k with my novels. I was writing children's before that though, MG and YA, and I think my MG novel hit around 70K. None of the agents who rejected it ever cited the word count as a reason. I think it depends on if the story NEEDS to be told in 70K words or is WORDY and ends up being 70K. A good critique partner should let you know which camp you fall into. You should see the pages I get back. Strikeouts everywhere. :P

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  10. Hi, Jill, this looks like such an interesting site. I came to your site from Rosi Hollenbeck's blog, and I'll be back for sure. As for word count? Write the book first, until you feel you have the story right. Then cut wherever you can.

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    1. Hello Elizabeth,
      THanks for stopping by. I enjoyed your blog too. Very sound advice on word count. Story first. Indeed!
      ~Just Jill

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  11. PS: Great pictures. I love especially those old paintings from the nineteenth century.

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  12. Where do you find these paintings?! I want to make every one of those dresses.

    I think a long word count is good, if the story is compelling. My daughter wants big, long fantasy books, preferably in a series. Thousands and thousands of pages...

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    1. My daughter wants those books as well. She is always delighted with a series. Me--less so.
      Found the paintings online. Always fun to browse the world's largest art gallery!
      Thanks for visiting.
      ~Just Jill

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  13. Hi, again, Jill, thanks for stopping by my blog and commenting. And thanks for following my Victorian blog.

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  14. Ha-ha...you made me laugh. Interesting how kid's reading tastes have changed isn't it? Word counts are scary. My YA is approaching 93k. But head says I have so much to say. My muse says, wrap it up!!

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    1. Give that muse a sandwich and keep on writing!
      ~Just Jill

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  15. Thanks for these great paintings, Jill. They're a feast for the eyes.

    I watch the word count carefully, as in, a chapter can't go over 2200 words. I guess I also transpose what I don't like as a reader. Adverbs drive me nuts so I avoid using them as much as possible. A WIP has so many components. *sighs*

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    1. Interesting how what we like as readers influences what we write.
      Thanks for stopping by Kittie!
      ~Just Jill

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  16. Thank you, Jill, for the fab comment and the shout-out on your sidebar. What a sweet thing to do! The girl you wanted to help tell time and refused--well, the same thing happened to me some years ago. What an awful feeling that was, when she didn't care. You're the only other person I've met who's also had that happen. Sad, eh?

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Please use your words and comment freely! We really should meet!