Tag: word count

word count

Tracking the words

 I’m starting a new project and this means setting goals. There is always a balance between outlining, researching, and writing. In the end, there must be words on the page.  For this project I have an idea, but it is malleable. I’m choosing to do background research while writing certain parts I have in my head. Usually I have an idea, get a good start on an outline, and then write….. so I’m in slightly uncharted territory.  Using an outline as a guiding principle, I pinpoint the major plot points and go into detail for at least the first 20% before writing anything. At that point, I know the beginning and pretend to know the end (that always changes but it’s a starting target).   Recently a writer friend shared that she can calculate progress on a manuscript by hours worked. She doesn’t have a firm daily word count goal, and instead tracks the hours she’s spent, knowing that it will take 600 hours to finish. Much like a daily word count chart, she draws a chart with dates on the left while on the top she lists what she’s working on (outline, first draft, social media, etc.) and marks in how much time she spent that day on each part of the process.   She uses Scrivener for the first draft, which also keeps an eye on word count, then imports the first draft into Word and uses that for the rest. As a side note, she doesn’t count researching as part of the 600 hours.  I’m tempted to start tracking my own work this way, and wonder how others feels about tracking the hours and not the words. 

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The Non-Feel Good Novel

One of my favorite novelists is Herman Koch because he makes me consistently uncomfortable. The first book I read from Koch was The Dinner. The novel’s POV protagonist, Paul Lohman, starts off as a pretty likable guy. He has some issues, a few stray thoughts that would give most people pause, but doesn’t everyone? Who hasn’t thought something that they would never say aloud? Who hasn’t laughed at a friend’s off-color joke?   As the story goes on, however, it becomes clear that Paul’s naughty thoughts are much more than one-offs. By the book’s end, I felt a bit guilty that I had liked Paul at the start. That guilt made the story stick with me even though the ending wasn’t one to revel in and the characters weren’t people whom I would ever cheer for in real life. I like my good characters with a healthy dose of bad. To me, that makes them complicated, and complexity makes people human. I’m not alone. How could Breaking Bad have been so successful if plenty of people weren’t willing to root for Walter White? Still, not everyone feels this way. When I wrote The Widower’s Wife, some readers didn’t like the fact that my main character, Ana, contemplates a crime when she feels her back is against the wall and isn’t consistently honest. They couldn’t identify with her choices. Understandable. Though I wasn’t asking readers to sympathize with her as much as empathize. If they had Ana’s back story and then were put in her difficult circumstances, might they make a similar choice? At the end of the day, my test for characters–those I read and those I write–is believability, not likability. Given their individual histories, do their actions follow? Whether or not they would be my friend is another matter.  What do you think? Should writers err on the side of likability? Should protagonists make you uncomfortable?     

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The Dreaded Word Count

  Does it help to count? The first 1,000 words of a new book are the hardest (and the most thrilling when they are DONE!). No more blank white page. You know where the story starts (in this draft at least) and you’re off and running. The next ten thousand slip by, then you re-group. Move through with edits and the beginning is richer, more detailed (in my case, real names for minor characters in lieu of Monsieur ABC and Madame XYZ). Thousands more words. Yippee!  On the other hand, there are days when you edit and see the words disappear. 32,032 is now 27,501. Yikes. I frantically do the math: How did I cut 16%? Why? A blood-letting. Now I question my judgement: maybe I didn’t need to trim that scene, cut that chapter, edit that description. There have been darker days:  When the manuscript was complete and in the hands of the publisher and I knew deep down in my heart that I needed to cut several characters and trim trim trim (okay, surgically remove) an entire theme or two. It felt dangerous. What if I couldn’t fit it all back together again? This was major surgery, none of your outpatient stuff. In the end I learned a good lesson…. Just do it. Have a plan—this isn’t willy-nilly cutting to see what happens—and keep track of what is cut and moved, and what is now missing and will have to be redistributed to other characters and descriptions. But do it. After I cut and redistributed and in-filled I ended up with a few thousand more words. By then the word count didn’t matter, but it illustrated that if I aimed for the best book the rest would follow. I’m trying to keep this in mind….. and not care that today’s work feels like driving in reverse. 

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