Sunday, January 16, 2022

Reduce Your Word Count: a wordsmith workshop

This post is part of a series to augment the Tips for Writing Fiction available for free download.

This and other writing workshops are gathered in my Workshops Directory for you to explore.

Find my world workshops in the Worldbuilding Directory.

I'm of the camp that using less words is better than using more words (learn why in this writing workshop). If your draft is really long, there are a few things to look at:

1) How much description are you using? New drafts tend to over-describe everything, increasing word count and diminishing reader interest.

2) How much exposition are you using? New drafts tend to tell instead of show and this leads to more words. It also leads to readers getting bored.

3) How much passive voice are you using? Active voice is much more powerful in a novel, and it uses less words. Passive voice reduces the importance of the agent (the person doing the action) and it increases word count.

4) How much dialogue are you using? New drafts tend to have excessive dialogue that really does nothing but take up space.

Friendly banter between two characters might be amusing and witty and build characterization, but if it doesn't advance the plot, you're basically taking readers on a self-indulgent romp.

While I was writing my Tales of the Known World saga, I learned this the hard way. You'll be surprised at how much dialogue you can cut and still have a good story (or even a better one).

Check these Tips for Writing Fiction to see more workshops!

5) How many scenes are in your novel? Along with pointless dialogue, new drafts tend to have a bunch of extra scenes for "character development" that don't really advance the plot at all.

Of course, it is crucial to show characterization within the unfolding plot, but a new draft can often cut whole scenes/chapters and deliver a better story without all the fluff.

6) How many adverbs do you use? One way to rack up some pointless word count is to use a bunch of descriptors like adverbs (and, to a lesser extent, adjectives) instead of taking the time to find the right noun or verb.

Check through your draft. If you've written a lot of stuff like he said quietly or the door closed suddenly, you can cut back on your word count with more precise diction like he murmured or the door slammed.

7) How much story are you telling? If you've gone through your draft and you can't really find a lot of opportunity to use the above 6 things to reduce your word count... your story might just be really long.

Check through your draft for smaller stopping points, places where the plot lulls: a minor resolution is met, the characters plan a new course of action, or they must take the next step in their plan.

See if you can break your manuscript at one of these stopping points to create two books of equal value. The best part with this solution is, now you've already drafted two novels!

That's it for this post! Check out the latest writing workshops for more.

Download Tips for Writing Fiction here, or start your adventure below.

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