Tuesday, July 6, 2010

MISMATCHED: A Thought on Word Count and Story Endings

A thought on word count:

Most people blog about the numbers. How many words they have written, how many pages, chapters, drafts. Whatever. I happen to be one of the multitude (one of the multitude who admits it) that had too many words in my MS. Yes, I do. Or did, rather. When the creative mind is a flow, and words are coming out a top rate speed, one cannot simply stop and say, ‘Hmmm, I have too many words here, I better fix it.’ Nope. You don’t stop. You steamroll along.

Well, even after I plunged forward, I didn’t admit that the excess words I used were of no use. After many months I finally came to the conclusion that a lot of those words needed to be sucked right out. Like venom from a snake bite. They poisoned my story. There were just too darn many of them.

And I did it!

Last August (now don't balk at the number of months I am taking on this. I am a mother of three, just moved, life is chaotic.) I had over 97,000 words. Yuck!

And now…

Ta da!

I have only 86,000!

Don’t you think that is pretty amazing? I think that is pretty amazing.

Progress!! (that deserves another exclamation point… !)

And now, on to my second topic: Story endings.

Tell me what you think about this:

In several books I have read the author decided to jump ahead and tell a little bit about what happens later on in the lives of their characters. This is what we all want as readers, isn’t it? I do, at least. Some books just leave you hanging, or leave you in such a wonderful fuzzy place that you just want more words to read to keep you there.

Well, sometimes I leave off reading and wonder: That’s it? Or What the…? (You thought I would swear. Haha. I would never. Cha.)

For example, in the Harry Potter series (which I absolutely love, BTW.), JKR jumps ahead and I find myself in a miss-matched sort of place. I am out of touch with the characters. The writing doesn’t exactly fit the rest of the story…for me, at least. It does give you a little hint of closure, but I wish it fit a little better. The pieces didn’t go together for me.

A different example was a book I just read by Mary E. Pearson, ‘The Adoration of Jenna Fox’. I really really loved this book. She gave a fast-forwarded ending as well. This time, I liked it, though I was left hanging a little at the climax of the storyline. It should have had just a teensy weensy bit more. But the ending fit the rest of the story. You felt like the characters were still the people you knew and their future lives were easily imagined.

This is what I think. When we (meaning you and I) write endings that skip ahead, they need to mesh. Make sure they add and not take away from the overall feeling of the book. When I am writing, I try to determine if there is anything left unsaid (even in series writing…make sure you can sell that first book first). If there is something left unsaid, then ask yourself if it really needs to be in the book, and find a way to make it fit the mood of the book (or put it in earlier on if you can). Don’t patch on an already written ending that you wrote years before hand and try to make it work. (like me putting on makeup late in the day to look presentable when my husband springs visitors on me to play hostess to, only to have it not match up with the already warn off makeup…uh, yeah. =). Doesn’t work so much, does it?

I even find myself reading all the way through my book, getting caught up in the ending and then reading the beginning of my book only to find that it doesn’t carry enough gusto.

But that’s another topic left open for discussion.

The moral of THIS story: Make it match.

(wow, and I thought I had nothing to blog about today)


Amanda J. said...

Congrats on cutting all that out! Woo! :) And I hated the epilogue to Harry Potter. End of story. But I like the flash forward at the end of Dreamquake by Elizabeth Knox, funny how things work and others don't. I agree though, everything has to fit together.

Alexandra Shostak said...

I love cutting stuff. I used to write really short drafts, and so I'd always need to add stuff. But I got into the problem where what I was adding wasn't helping me either.

Of course, this time, when the stuff I'm adding is details to the plot and world building (gotta have it in a fantasy world) the word count is going through the roof. Oy.

(p.s. I'm the one having the contest with Carol and Sara, not Shannon ;) )

Kathryn Packer Roberts said...

Oh,Sorry Alexandra! I will fix that right now. Thanks for point it out to me.

Shannon said...

You have a good point about bragging about how much fat you've trimmed off your word count.

Stupidly enough, I actually had to ADD more words to my novel rather than subtract them to please my critters. I think part of that was that I was writing in a different genre (fantasy) to the one I normally read (the smooth, bare bones style of Ed McBain's crime novels).

Cholisose said...

I'm going to have to cut out a ton of stuff from the last book I wrote... It ended up about twice as long as I wanted it to be! (about 140k, when I wanted 70k)
There's tons of meandering though, so I think I'll manage.
As for endings, I agree it definitely has to fit. The ending is the author's last impression on the reader, so if it's a sour ending, that's what the reader will remember most from the story, even if the rest of it was good.