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Keeping Count ~ Tricks for Controlling Word Count Options · View
Posted: Saturday, April 2, 2011 9:46:12 AM

Rank: First Person Smartass

Joined: 2/8/2011
Posts: 345
Location: The suburbs.
Word Count - My biggest Nightmare.

It’s much easier for me to go long than it is short. Once I started writing full length novels, it became pathetically easy to run too long.

In the past two years, the shortest story I've been able to write was just short of 4000 words. (I was aiming for 2000.) 3 stories I originally planned for 20k (20,000 words) - went to 40k, (40 thousand words.) I have the detailed outlines for 3 more that were originally supposed to be 40k. According to my outline, all three of these want to be full length 100k novels. Sigh...

Avoid Whack-Jobs ~ Write Fresh!

I'm known for my water-tight plotting. My background is in writing Advertising Copy, so I tend to write very, very spare. Once a story is completed I CAN'T cut. There's nothing TO cut. No extra nothing. Every single thing in my stories has a reason to be there.

I'm lucky. If the word count doesn't come out exactly right my Publishers will normally take the story anyway. In most cases they ask me to ADD scenes. (I have yet to be asked to delete a scene.)

But ~! If I'm writing for an anthology, I'm dealing with a hard-limit. The story HAS to be the correct length or it won't fit. If I get it Wrong? I'll write a whole new story rather than attempt a rewrite.

It is always better to have TWO sellable stories
~ than One carved down beyond recognition.

If your plot is tight -- everything is absolutely necessary to make that story happen, DON'T waste your time cutting! Writing a whole new story is actually faster, and far less stressful. This way you have two stories for sale instead of one badly mangled tale.

Deadline = No Time to Waste on the WRONG Story!

When I am on deadline and I am dealing with a hard word-count, I don't have time to waste on false starts so I do a detailed plot outline before I write. (Actually I do a detailed plot outline for everything I write. I'm what you call a Plot-Whore. *Grin.*)

Novella Plot
20,000 to 60,000 words
One Event that changes the Characters' lives
8 major movements:
0 – Overture - Alarm
1 - Introduction - Denial*

2 - Rising Action - Anger*
3 - Climax / Reversal - Bargaining*

4 - Falling Action - Despair*
5 - Crash - Sacrifice*

6 - Confrontation - Acceptance*
0 - Denouement - Resolution
16 chapters at 3.75k words each = 60k
8 chapters at 3k words each = 24k

3 Main characters: Hero / Heroine / Villain
(Proponent / Obstacle Character** / Adversary)
Only 1 or 2 POV characters - 1st Person or 3rd Person Limited

* Note: Character Arc: Denial - Anger - Despair - Bargaining (Sacrifice) – Acceptance: the Stages of Grief.

**Note: The Obstacle Character is the Nay-sayer that possesses the opposing opinion. In a 3-character plot, the Viewpoint Character tends to play opposition for both the Adversary and the Proponent.

For the HARD CANDY anthology, I had a hard limit - 20 to 30k.
-- By outlining my ideas, I discovered that 3 of my story concepts needed too high a word count. All three novel-sized ideas went into my Unfinished Projects folder, this way I didn't waste all my deadline time writing something I couldn't use.

When I finally put together a story that had all the necessary criteria for the anthology, I still had a story that was double the length of the other stories by the other two authors. I contacted the publisher and told her what I had. I was lucky. Both of the other contributing authors ran short - exactly 20k, so there was room for my 40k monster.

Why did my anthology story run to 40k?

The publisher wanted a ménage, three sexually involved main characters, in a cross-genre of sci-fi / fantasy. This was for an Erotic Romance publisher so a “Happily Ever After” was essential - the ménage set had to become a 3-way relationship.

Both sci-fi and fantasy take a lot of detailing to do right. (You can't throw a fairy into a story without explaining what it's doing there or how it got there, in addition to having a reason for its presence.) In order to pull off a logically sound sci-fi / fantasy mix, I used paranormal elements as the fantasy element.

The complications of the mixed genre forced me to add an antagonist, a villain to have a USE for those paranormal elements. I ended up with a total cast of 5 main characters: a cyborg, a telepath, a fortuneteller and a man haunted by a ghost - the ghost being character #5, all running around on a space station.

Then there was the sex.

In order to cut the encounters to as few as logically possible, I started the story with two of the ménage characters already sexually involved, and then I added my viewpoint character.

That meant that I needed a minimum of 3 encounters. One where the viewpoint character became sexually involved with one of the established couple ASAP, then a ménage scene to show the beginnings of their 3-way relationship, and finally another ménage at the end after all the story problems were solved, to show them as a viable 3-way relationship and deliver on a happy ending.

The final count for the Sci-Fi / paranormal story FORTUNE'S STAR came to just above 44k.

From the editor at Loose Id, on FORTUNE'S STAR:
"Excellent work. I was almost hoping I would find some extraneous stuff to cut, to make it shorter, but I found that the pace moves along very well and there isn't anything that's not vital to the story. It really keeps you guessing but is not too confusing."

Tricks I use to Limit word count:
- Limit the CAST to Only the absolute Essentials to tell the story.
- The closer to the main event - the shorter the story.
- Simplify the genre. Contemporary stories take far less descriptive detailing than Sci-Fi or Fantasies.

- Story Under 10K - You only need 2 characters - the two people having sex. Start the story with them already getting nekkid.
- Story Over 20k - This calls for a Problem, (a plot twist,) to come between the main characters.
- Story Over 40k - This calls for an actual Antagonist, a villain, in addition to a problem to solve -before the main characters can have their "Happily Ever After".

Expanding Word Count is Easy.
- add characters
- add problems
- use a genre that takes a lot of detail
- cross genres

In Conclusion...
- If you are dealing with a hard word-count limit, and a deadline, outlining the entire plot to your story, before you write it, will save you time and grief.

For those of you interested, Fortune's Star can be found here.

DISCLAIMER: As with all advice, take what you can use and throw out the rest. As a multi-published author, I have been taught some fairly rigid rules on what is publishable and what is not. If my rather straight-laced (and occasionally snotty,) advice does not suit your creative style, by all means, IGNORE IT.

Morgan Hawke
Purveyor of fine Smut.
DarkErotica.Net ~ My Website
DarkErotica Blog ~ My Writers' blog

"If you can't explain it simply, you don't understand it well enough."
Albert Einstein

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