Beth Daniels is one of SavvyAuthors long-time instructors and she’s always coming up with great new classes like this one. If you are interested in a new class from a wonderful instructor then check out Beth, her funny wit, and The Fine Art of Killing Words: Edit for a Lean, Mean Manuscript starting Monday. ~ed.
I love words.
I love playing with them, tossing them about, arranging them, letting them frolic, arranging them in various ways or recreating them with a few changes to ending or beginning letters. It doesn’t matter whether the word shows up in a dictionary or not. As long as a reader will understand it in context, it works.
I learned this long ago from Charlotte Armstrong when reading The Gift Shop, which was released in 1966, though I believe I discovered it in a later edition in paperback. While simply termed a “suspense” novel, it was actually a romantic-comedy thriller/quest story with dashing about the world long before Dan Brown sent his protagonist dashing about in search of things.
What’s this got to do with words and a “berserker” edit of them while polishing your manuscript?
Bear with me. We’ll get to that.
In The Gift Shop, the hero uses the word “deviousity” but the heroine objects that there is no such word. Our hero says something like “but you know what I mean when I say deviousity” to which she reluctantly replies, “yes” and he rather triumphantly announces “then it works quite well and should be in the dictionary.” Or words to that effect. While I’ve read this story more than once over the years, this is now giving me the urge to pick it up and read it again. It was the first book I read where the hero’s name was Harry (though only because his older brothers were Tom and Dick, it wasn’t his legal name), and rather why I later named one of my own romantic-comedy suspense heroes Harry.
That’s beside the point here. The point is, when the dictionary doesn’t supply a word, sometimes you need to invent one or change the usage of it.
This blog is about editing words though, isn’t it? Well, the message at this point is, DON’T EDIT the clever words, the words that supply voice or personality to your characters when killing things for a leaner, meaner manuscript.
So, what do you kill?
It’s amazing how many words one can annihilate in a manuscript when required. But I’m not going to tell you what they are here. No, I’m saving that for The Fine Art of Killing Words: Edit for a Lean, Mean Manuscript workshop that begins January 8th and runs through February 4th here at Savvy Authors.
Though the time is closing on when the virtual doors are thrown open on the “invisible” classroom, I want to give you some good reasons why you should be seated in those imaginary chairs that first day.
I’ve been a professional (aka traditionally published) novelist since 1990 and during that time the number of words that editors looked for in a manuscript have changed. Where once the requirement was 75,000 words it has dropped to 60,000 to 65,000 words. Historicals, once 90,000+ words, are down to 70,000 words at some publishers. My mind still works at the higher word level when pounding out a story.
But some of you haven’t had to consider how many words to write.
This can be for various reasons, such as you’ve decided to go the Independent Publishing route and thus you’re the boss of how many words a story runs, or it could be that you’ve been writing for the smaller houses where electronic books are their main emphasis followed by POD trade paperback if the e-book sells well and they give only a minimum word count, not a maximum one.
Of course, it could also be that you’ve been writing to a previously posted or tallied the number of words a particular publisher was releasing (in that you counted the number of words on five printed pages in a published book, divided by 5 for an estimate of words per page then multiplied it by the number of full pages in the book).
That last is what I did when I decided to inch my way out of romance and into urban fantasy. I went with the titles of books released by more than one fantasy publishing house because my favorite urban fantasy writers didn’t all write for the same publishing houses. I figured that would give me a solid word count goal. And I came up with 100,000 to 135,000 words when the math was all done.
Let’s face it. Readers also expect to get a certain length in specific genres and genre niches for the stories they enjoy best, too. Even as an Indie pubbed author, that should be kept in mind. You don’t want them to feel gypped!
I’d gone over 90,000 words in historical romances that included a mystery frequently, so I was confident that hitting 100,000 words was a very doable goal. I actually went a couple hundred over that with the first book, and even with an edit that trimmed some out and added a few more for clarity, I was quite pleased with the result. The manuscript landed me a new agent (I’d parted company with a previous one years before). She was enthusiastic about the new series. Loved my main character and his voice as much as I did. (I do love being him, as these are written in 1st person.)
But then she said words that rang like a death kell.
“I think it will interest more editors at a shorter length.”
She asked if I could get it down to 85,000 to 90,000 words.
Trim a 100,000+ word manuscript that already “sang” (to my mind) to under 90,000 words. That was 35 pages that had to be given a pink slip. Words I’d sweated to string together. Words I loved.
But the goal wasn’t to simply have a book I could read and share with friends. The goal was to get back in the traditional publishing marketplace in a new genre niche – urban fantasy mystery comedy.
One needs to pick and choose the goals at times. I printed out the manuscript. Hacked out single words, repetitions where the same thing was said in different words. I reined in my hero’s babbling, which, unfortunately, was part of his charm to my mind, but he was restrained, even if I figuratively wrestled him to the ground and nearly throttled him. Fortunately, he understood. He wanted the same goal I did – to entertain more than just a handful of readers. He wanted thousands of them to share his adventures, too.
It took me a week but over 11,000 words bit the dust.
This is a very lean and mean…and still funny…manuscript now.
And when I wrote the second volume, I kept all the word killing elements in place and brought in the second volume of the series at the 88,000-word mark.
It doesn’t matter how much experience a novelist has (and mine extends to 29 published novels currently), something new can always be learned. And sometimes, it’s “deviousity” that works best when doing what resembles a berserker type of edit.
So, join me for the workshop and find out what I cut and where I cut and what I kept and why it was kept.
That’s The Fine Art of Killing Words: Edit for a Lean, Mean Manuscript , January 8th through February 4th. Isn’t it the perfect way to dive into those New Year’s Resolutions you made to either write more, finish more, or more importantly, write BETTER manuscripts in 2018?
Beth Daniels truly believes that the worst part of writing for publication is doing a synopsis. She’s pretty sure she sucks lemons at it. Or sucks lemons because it’s so easy to make a weird face when you do so. Might as well make it a lime, and add salt and tequila to the mix. She might like writing synopses if such were the case. That doesn’t me she doesn’t write synopses…spending far more time on two lousy pages than she did on a 3,500-word long chapter. But somewhere along the way she swears herself into a synopsis that behaves itself and sounds like the text of the manuscript. With 29 published novels, 4 manuscripts in search of editors, and a long and still growing list of non-fiction books about writing fiction, she’s pretty sure some things are being done satisfactorily to rank her as an authority…well, nearly an authority.
[box] NEW RELEASE:
SUPERSTAR. A decade-spanning tale of soulmates torn apart by each’s pursuit of a career in the late 20th century.
Paul Montgomery’s dreams are of music, of writing it as well as performing. His journey takes him from covering Beatle songs for high school dances in the mid-1960s to being acclaimed for his diversity in the world of rock ‘n’ roll. Particularly for composing a library of love songs. With sold out concerts around the world, singles and albums that repeatedly go gold then platinum, and innovative music videos on MTV, he seems to lead a charmed life. At least, professionally. Along the way there is tragedy: the loss of a friend to the Viet Nam war, the attempt to save a fellow rocker from her drug addiction, but it is winning and losing the only woman he’s ever loved – twice – that is a never healing wound in his heart.
For Aurora Chambers, it is the world of fashion that beckons. A scholarship for a summer design program in London is a carrot even her love for Paul can’t best. Hurt by his seeming denigrating of her aspirations, she throws herself into the heart of Carnaby Street in 1967, and the arms of her instructor, Trevor Harris, a self-serving man who plans to use her talent as his stepping stone to better things. Unaware of Paul’s continuing love for her, Rory binds her future to Trevor’s. It is a step she soon learns to regret though it does bring her career success beyond her previous dreams. With a clothing line that repeatedly wins accolades on the catwalks, she has only one stumbling block. Her designs all carry Trevor’s name, not her own. Aurora must marshal some of Trevor’s own devious traits to take back what is hers. Secretly, she follows Paul’s rise through the music trades, occasionally mourning the loss of what they’d had. When a second chance at happiness with him appears, she grabs it. And nearly destroys them both.
Because, sometimes love simply isn’t enough.