Above and Beyond in Word Count

  • By: Jessica Faust | Date: Jan 04 2007

A recent call for questions elicited a number of great replies, and bear with us, we’re getting to them as quickly as we can. . . .

Miss Snark has replied to a question I sent about word counts. She says 100,000 tops for a romance. I have written a novel which has 200,000. I have divided it into 2, but to submit only the first half does not complete the story! Should I cut out so much and lose half the story line! I dont know what to do and am helplessly lost somewhere in the middle. Please advise.

Miss Snark is right. My guess is that your story probably isn’t going to work if you divide it in half. Instead you are going to have to cut it down. 200,000 words is really long. Do you really need every piece that’s in it? I know it all sounds wonderful to you now, but take a break, start writing something else, and come back to it. My guess is that you probably have spots of intense description that aren’t needed and places where, honestly, nothing happens. Every scene and every moment in your book should be moving the plot and story forward. If it’s not, it doesn’t belong.

While I know that all of you can point out instances where authors have written romances longer than 100,000 words, it’s not the norm, and when you’re starting out it’s better to stick a little closer to the norm. Editing is probably one of the toughest jobs in writing, but learning to properly edit your own work is also invaluable.


8 responses to “Above and Beyond in Word Count”

  1. Avatar elysabeth says:

    I can’t even imagine writing over 200,000 words on one book, let alone read one that long (um close to 800 pages?) – I do well to read close to 400 page novels and to write 250 or less page stories – lol (YA/middle grade readers is a lot different than regular novels) – but needless to say – My guess is that a lot of that 200,000 words is probably repetitive – there’s only so many ways to describe a kiss or a romp in the hay or skin or whatever it is you are describing in your romance – so yep sounds like some major editing is needed – good luck – E 🙂

  2. Avatar elysabeth says:

    just an aside (not having to do with the thread) – yesterday I looked at my comment and it signed me in as anonymous (I’m not – don’t know why blogger did that I had signed in to my account before posting the message – just so you all know – I do sign my postings with an E 🙂 (elysabeth is my name that should be displayed at the top) – see you all in the postings – E 🙂

  3. Avatar ~Nancy says:

    I’d suggest either buying or getting out of the library Self-Editing For Fiction Writers, by Renni Browne and Dave King. This book will give you an idea as to what to cut or add and why. I mean, they edited F. Scott Fitzgerald, for crying out loud! 🙂

    Or, if you can handle it, why not join an online critique group? Try http://www.critiquecircle.com or a romance-specific one (don’t know if it exists, but I thought I’d throw it out there). Sometimes it’s a good idea to get fresh eyes on your ms. because, let’s face it, we wannabes don’t always have a critical eye fixed on our golden words ;-).

    At least, that’s true for me a lot of the time.

    Good luck!


  4. Avatar Kimber An says:

    I don’t have this problem, but some friends do. It really helps to sit down and write an outline. Nail down your main plot. Allow yourself a secondary plot. Slash & Burn everything else. Describe only enough to prompt the reader to create an image in her mind on her own. Lastly, get into a writers’ group and let them rake it over the coals! Painful, but if you’re serious about publication it’s got to be done. 😉

  5. Avatar Zany Mom says:

    Ditto the crit group or Critique Circle online.

    Not always painless to cut away darlings, but it’s a necessary evil.

    good luck!

  6. Avatar Kim says:

    In it’s first draft, one of my books topped out at 118,000 words and I actually queried it. (Don’t really know what I was thinking there). After a slew of rejections, I sat down and began hacking away anything that didn’t propel the story forward, subplots that weren’t really necessary, etc. It was tough, because I thought (silly me) it was absolutely perfect. But after the first edit, I’d cut out about 5000 words.

    I put it away for a few weeks and when I took it back out to look at with fresh eyes, I was really able to see how much filler I had left. Out came the red pen and I excised out another 20,000 words. It was amazing how much tighter the story was – and it paid off, when I sold it on the first try.

    Try not to think of every word as absolutely necessary. Instead, ask yourself ‘does it change the story to remove this?’, ‘does it slow things down?’, and you’ll probably be surprised by how much unnecessary filler you have. If you can’t do this on your own, get a critique partner to work with you. It might help to have an impartial reader to point out what can go.

    Be prepared to take out things you might absolutely love, but put them aside for use in another work. But you have to be as brutally honest with yourself as possible, because 200,000 words is way too long, no matter how you look at it. That’s about the length of Gone With the Wind, and I wonder if that would even be published today 🙂

  7. Avatar Kimber An says:

    Novels are nice, but they’re not anywhere near as glorious as having REAL babies!

    Hack away, Blog Buddies! It’s just a manuscript.

    Kim’s right (and she a wonderful name too!) Anything that doesn’t advance the plot gets the axe.

  8. Avatar Linda Adams says:

    Watch out for issues with the story that don’t work. Co-writer and I fixed a setup issue, and suddenly nearly 100 pages that were needed to shore it up were no longer necessary.