I watched one of those self-promoting videos in which there was a discussion on whether it is easier to trim words from a novel or add them. At first, I agreed with the notion that trimming was easier—after all, there is something immediate to work with. In my first novel, I found trimming easy to do as part of the editing process. This happened for me with my latest novel too. However, and this is where I differ, once I have done a heavy edit and trim, I find it easier to add to the plot and, therefore, the text. Like the tide creeping in, my additions give more depth. I guess others prefer to work the other way (and reduce their lengthy manuscript). To summarise:
- My draft manuscript finished at 76,000 words
- Trim/Edits dropped the word count to 74,000 words
- Adding more plot detail and two more chapters for improved depth of plot, etc. lifted the word count to 84,500. The key lesson is to let your manuscript be open to the changing tide of thought, refinement and additions. The words may go out and drain the book length; or come back in—often with crashing waves of inspiration—to enhance your writing and complete it. Only you will know for sure when the landscape of your novel looks best. For some, it is when the tide has gone out; for others (like me), it is when the tide is in and covering the early draft.
In an earlier post, I discussed book lengths. An interesting aside—when researching this topic on the internet, pay close attention to the date of the article or discussion. Here’s why:
You will notice that this research, based on the New York Bestseller list (see full article here) shows a very clear trend down from 467pp (in 2011) to 273 (in 2017)! In my new thriller, my draft manuscript hovered around 74,000 words. Now, following severe editing and adding critical plot and character details, it is sitting at 82,000 words. At this count, the book feels ‘right’. What do I mean by feel? I mean exactly that. Pick up a 74,000 word book and it feels a bit on the thin side. Now, try the 82,000 word novel and it has a good heft; a sense of substance, and I know I will be reading a story with a well—developed plot and depth of detail. Of course, this assumes that the story is well—written, and the plot exciting, with many twists and turns.
You may be wondering what stage my new thriller is at? It has been sent out to a few selected Literary Agents and I am still waiting for it to be picked up for representation. Meanwhile, I have not been idle in my writing! I continue to make minor edits, based mostly on beta reader feedback. This process has been most helpful. For example, over this past weekend, a good friend of mine (who is an avid thriller reader) sent me his annotated suggestions to my draft. I took a few hours to review these and make a few changes to the manuscript. During this process, it forced me to review a few paragraphs, add some character text, change a section from first to third person, etc. Feedback is like sparks that light up new ideas and I find the process so helpful as a writer. It improves the book. “Beta Readers are…a rare species that writers needed to treasure and conserve once found.” (see more here)
“The more I listen to (literary) agents the more I feel like a ribbon on a kite. Which way does the wind blow today?” Many will identify with this comment. After all, one day you Query Letter is not up to the task, the next your word count is too low; another day you chose the wrong sub—genre, and the next you made a grammatical error.
One thing you need to keep reminding yourself is that the ‘answer is blowing in the wind.’ Just hang on to that kite!
Like you, I am hoping that the wind will blow my way. I have published before, have self-published, have a couple of blogs going and believe in the book I have finished enough to stay clinging to the tail of the kite I am chasing!
Helpful advice from a great writer—C S Lewis.
During the Vietnam War, POWs who said, “We will be out by Christmas” were more likely to suffer from severe depression than those who said (or thought) “We will get out sometime.” Now, as a writer, it can be a long time before you land a suitable literary agent. The moral? Don’t expect to find the right one in a specific timeframe. Just spend quality time to find the one who suits you, your book, and your future writing career. Good advice from the Vets.
Bob French says, “James Bond’s famous tag line is actually a reversal of the original quote from Fleming’s books. The author used the line “stirred not shaken” to add yet another facet to Bond’s cool image. If a Martini is shaken, the alcohol becomes “bruised”, which detracts from the desired flavour – something which agent 007 would of course immediately notice and be suitably repulsed by. It was decided that the line “shaken not stirred” sounded much better, however, and so was adopted for the film – thus creating a character with a good collection of sound bytes, but a slightly odd taste in drinks.”
Author Dr. Saumya Dave gives candid advice to aspiring authors when she recounts taking 10 years and 200 agent rejections before getting her 2-book publishing deal. Her training as a psychiatrist helps her give deep insight into the lonely world of writers. One thing she mentioned is the importance of allowing time for ideas to germinate—that is, stirred, not shaken! There is an inherent danger in expecting to progress as a writer to a deadline. Finding a literary agent is not ‘speed dating’! Saumya says, “Writing was the first time I’m my life that I had played with failure and rejection.” But, she never gave up (well, she almost did). Check out her inspiring interview with here.
I came across a wonderful quote recently, by Gloria Gaither. She said, “You need to have ideas bigger than your life.” How profound and how ideal to sum up a writer’s goal. Novels, like paintings, can lift us above the ordinary and create worlds far bigger than our own lives; far longer than our histories and far removed from our world. Thank you, Gloria, for inspiring us to have ‘Ideas bigger than our lives’!