Monday, January 26, 2009

Words That Count and Stephen King

My word count is now down to 97,000 words with around 7,000 to go, literally. It's a tiresome slog, whittling away - first chunks, even whole pages, and now sentences and words. I can't say it's been difficult to do. It just takes immense patience, looking at the work as an unknown editor would.

When we read our own work, we often skim over things, perhaps a bit of dialogue that's not saying much, or paragraphs that are oh-so-familiar that we hardly see them. Our eye jumps to the next important bit. Well, it's those skimmed-over pieces that need to come out.

We even skim-read our favorite writers, and it's a pity it's necessary. It's fine for text books, articles, blogs, when we're just looking for the facts, but it shouldn't be true of fiction. I do it with many novels, and I don't resent it, hold no grudge against the writer, because if the good stuff is really good I'm forgiving of the superfluous words. A great book holds our attention the whole time. We feast on almost every word. Heck, we even go back and read the introduction and acknowledgements. THAT'S a good book.

So that's what word reduction is about. Despite some regret at the exclusion of what I considered remarkable passages that took hours to write, much of it will be used in other books. I have cut the equivalent of around 100 pages - almost a novella in itself. It's satisfying to know that I have all this other material tucked away, ready for the next manuscript.

I've just finished re-reading Stephen King's, On Writing. This is a must-have for writers, written in such an entertaining way that you're sad when it's finished.

I'm not a King fan, because I don't particularly care for blood-curdling, graphic violence. I read all of The Shining, despite how I felt about some scenes, because this man is a great writer (and a humorist). I recall reading the first chapter or so, thinking how perfect the setup was for a thriller, how beautifully he set the scene for us. But then everything went King-Crazy, weird and way too over the top for me, so that I read the rest with my head half-turned away, scared about what would come next. Okay, so I'm a wimp. But I love his writing, not necessarily his subject matter.

On Writing is a really good read, whether you are a writer or not. Stephen King comes across as a genuinely nice guy, full of wit, wisdom, and a down-to-earth approachability. He has a sort of 'Oh, shucks,' humility about him. This book reveals so much of his guy-next-door voice, it's hard to imagine how he can be as wealthy as he obviously is. Perhaps he's given most of it away. I urge you to read it, whether for the first time or again.

I closed this book, once more, with a smile on my face. How could Stephen King possibly achieve that with me, wimp that I am?


Embee said...

It's hard to imagine cutting that much out of something you've spent so much time writing. I'm on the opposite end of that: I've got so much left to write that it's a daunting task to try to achieve!

I've also read Stephen King's "On Writing" and I agree with you, it's a really valuable book to read. I don't generally care for King's creepy stories either, but if you've got the time and inclination, his "Dark Tower" series is well worth the read. It's 7 very long novels, but they're not bloody horror stories. It's one very long story that I enjoyed enough to read more than once (even my 16 yo son has read the entire series at least twice). I definitely recommend the series!

Fran said...

The chopping left me a little sad at times, I admit, but you get over it. I figure you publish the first one well, and then the next book get to be bigger, with luck!

Thanks for that about Stephen King. I like his style so much that it will be a pleasure to read his 'normal' work. I'm ashamed I didn't know about them.

Once you get down to it, your book will flow, I promise. You won't be able to wait to get to it. Before you know it, you'll be cutting words out too. I read that you write anything and everything that comes to mind in the first draft. And in the second you chop out at least 10%. (Mine was 35%!)

Kit Courteney said...

I bought 'On Writing' last year but haven't even started reading it yet.

I bought it at the same time as buying several writing books - I read those and was then in need of some fiction. I'd since forgotten about the Stephen King one... Doh!

Christopher Y. C. Loke said...

Good job, Fran, way to go! Now that the fat is trimmed, your MS is be ready for submission. Your next step is a stellar query. Let me know if I can help.

And 35 percent is actually normal, 10 percent is not. (Regarding the trimming of your MS.)