Sunday, November 22, 2009


Every writer faces it...the dreaded word count. We sci-fi and fantasy writers, seem to have an added stress. No only do we have the same word count restrictions of standard genres, but we have to build worlds and connect the reader to unusual settings and characters.

I've heard it over and over through my writer groups, online, and in industry resources. Science-fiction and fantasy stories frequently end up between 100-130 K, or even more. what?

Do we force through and try to get 100-130 K published, industry standards be damned? No, that's been tried before and failed miserably.

Do we break it up into a series and submit them as such? Well, yeah...if your established and proven with sales to back it up. But if you are, you wouldn't be worried about the word count. And if you were established, you wouldn't be reading this newbies blog. As a rookie, like me, you can't get away with trying to submit a series unless the first in the series is independent enough from the second, third, and so on. The plain fact is you just aren't a sure bet yet to the agent or publisher.

What to do, what to do? Here's what you do.

  • Rip out your love for the story (this usually can be done if you tuck your story away for several weeks)
  • Get your mental machete.
  • Tear through each sentence, each paragraph, each scene, and each chapter...slicing and dicing.

Start with the blaring stuff. Are there two sentences in a paragraph that describe the same thing? If so, can you mold the two by cutting words and gathering them together in a tighter sentence.

Are there multiple paragraphs describing simple, everyday actions. Does it really take two paragraphs for the character to enter the dang door? Cut it down and show what you need in one intense paragraph.

How about things you just over described by using too many adjectives?

Once you do your first pass with the obvious stuff you got to get tougher. Are there points in the storyline that just don't matter to the reader? Have you written half a chapter describing a place you'll never take a character? Or explaining a technology the characters wouldn't notice in their everyday life. This happens a lot when sci-fi writers are describing the technology of the future. It can be neat and as a sci-fi reader I can soak it up...if it fits within the storyline.

But if you're describing a travel jump to the minute details, only to have the characters blocked by the law and having to use traditional space travel...well, what was the point? The reader is now frustrated that they don't get to see the technology in action or the reaction/result to the character afterwards.

If you really want to be published, you have to remember that you've entered their world. They haven't asked you in, you're demanding to be in. So play by the least until you're famous. Then you can write two paragraphs about the color of the stupid floor, like Stephen King.

Good writing all!

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