Escape Artists

News:

News

ATTENTION: NEW FORUM THEME Please see here for details: http://forum.escapeartists.net/index.php?topic=13188.0

Author Topic: Word Count  (Read 4926 times)

Balu

  • Guest
on: August 03, 2012, 01:28:48 PM
I still can't decide if having to hit that 750 mark is a stultifying pain in the ass or an excellent discipline for an aspirant writer. Either way, chopping and cutting is always my least favourite part of the process.

How do you guys go about it? Any suggestions about how to take the pain out of it, or how to hit the sweet spot first time around?



Scott W Baker

  • Matross
  • ****
  • Posts: 180
    • Chaos out of Chaos
Reply #1 on: August 04, 2012, 05:18:14 AM
At the risk of sounding kinky, the pleasure is in the pain.  Yeah...that needs clarification.

Yes, it sucks to cut words to hit the 750 mark.  To come in under a thousand while telling a complete (beginning, middle, end) story is pretty tough, so if your first draft did that, bravo.  Then you need to cut about 25% of it?  Really?  Well, it can be done and it's a good exercize.  The firt draft had extra stuff in it.  Trust me, it did. 

First pass, I remove the obvious stuff: -ly adverbs, dialog windups (things like "obviously" or "the way I see it", etc.), wordy descriptions (they don't belong in flash), clever world-building that doesn't really touch the story, that kind of stuff. 

Still not at 750, but it's lean.  Call it 875.  Need to cut 125 more.

Now I think about condensing things that work into more efficient chunks.  For me, this is usually dialog, but it could be description or foreshadowing or whatever.  Did I take some of the clever out of the story?  Probably.  Is it better for it?  Usually.  This is boiling a story idea down to its purist elements.  If you can make it happen faster without losing the plot thread, try it.  I often try this in the wrong places and have to put thins back ad try again.  It's an art, not a science.  Odds are you fixed the right stuff when you can't remember what it used to say. 

So now I've murdered some darlings and maybe I'm under 800.  Still...20 to 40 words to cut.

Now is where I cut the line -- sometimes even a paragraph -- that the story can survive without.  There is always one in there.  It's bogging things down even though it has a definite role to play.  The story just doesn't need it.  Find it, pay it your last respects, and kill it.  Make it quick so there is no suffering.  (You did back it up, right?)

Now I've probably hit...738 or something.  My first instinct: "hey, I can put something back." Don't do it! 

Sleep on it.  A few nights maybe.  Get it back out when you can barely remember what the thing said.  Read it with fresh eyes (maybe printed out in a different font) and figure out what doesn't make sense.  Add 2 or 3 words at a time to make the story clear.  Not clearER, just clear.  I sometimes make line-level changes at this phase, typically to make the 2 to 3 word clarification fit into the sentence- and paragraph-level mechanics. 

If this puts the story over 750 words, you did something wrong.  Go back and try each editing phase again. 

What's the point of the double entendre?  (Maybe a 1.5 entendre.)  Most stories can be trimmed this way, regardless of length.  This provides a small scale to practice your frustration with minimal time investment.  To learn this process with a novel...yeah, the pain there is pretty severe. 

Is this a foolproof system?  Heck no.  I doubt it works for anyone other than me.  So your mileage will most certainly vary.

And be aware, not every story works as flash.  So if you just can't wedge the thing under the 750 bar no matter how hard you shove, start over with another idea.  The worst that could happen is you get two stories written instead of one.  (Don't throw me in the briar patch!) 

Good luck to all.   

Scott W. Baker
EP #303: Leech Run
EP #359: Chasers


Balu

  • Guest
Reply #2 on: August 05, 2012, 11:05:23 PM
Thanks. That really helped. getting to grips with this is hard to do, but it is now a lot more doable.
 
I'm getting one story down to size (only 50 more to go) and the other I've decided to let run wild and free.



Unblinking

  • Sir Postsalot
  • Hipparch
  • ******
  • Posts: 8729
    • Diabolical Plots
Reply #3 on: August 06, 2012, 03:43:58 PM
One of the unhelpful but mostly-true things that I've found in my few years of writing:  Let the story be exactly as long as it needs to be.  Some of my best stories (both in my own opinion and based on opinions given by others) have been around 500-600 words.  I don't write a whole lot at that length, but when I do I really really like them.  It needs a particular kind of idea, one which can be explored in half a grand of words, wham-bang, and then end with some kind of satisfying tie-off. 

My advice is that you shouldn't trim anything that will make it less of a story.  If you can trim it, that's dead weight anyway.  If you can't, don't ruin your story by shortening it too much.  If it were me, I'd be very wary of trimming a story for this contest that is in a finished state at word count of more than 850 words.  I'd suggest writing a new story instead, if it's much more than that.

For this flash fiction contest, I had a couple stories well suited that I could submit.  For the last one, I didn't have any ready.  The way that I dealt with that is by taking flash-master Greg Van Eekhout's advice, and getting prompts from friends.  I posted to my Facebook account, asking for writing prompts, brief phrases or ideas from my friend's there (who don't have to be writers).  I wrote half a dozen flash-length stories in response to that.
For instance:
"the unmistakeable smell of scorch" became my story "The Quest Unusual" which did not win the contest but was published in Daily Science Fiction.
"fluffernutter" became my story "Mysterious Ways" which did not win the contest but was published in Uncle John's Bathroom Reader.



Balu

  • Guest
Reply #4 on: August 06, 2012, 10:26:11 PM
"So if you just can't wedge the thing under the 750 bar no matter how hard you shove, start over with another idea" and " My advice is that you shouldn't trim anything that will make it less of a story" is pretty much what I needed to hear.

I've decided to live with the fact that my best attempt to date isn't going into this. There's too much good meat on that particular bone.

On the other hand, if it hadn't been for this competition I probably wouldn't have written it, so it's all good.

Time to start again.



Unblinking

  • Sir Postsalot
  • Hipparch
  • ******
  • Posts: 8729
    • Diabolical Plots
Reply #5 on: August 07, 2012, 01:38:46 PM
"So if you just can't wedge the thing under the 750 bar no matter how hard you shove, start over with another idea" and " My advice is that you shouldn't trim anything that will make it less of a story" is pretty much what I needed to hear.

I've decided to live with the fact that my best attempt to date isn't going into this. There's too much good meat on that particular bone.

On the other hand, if it hadn't been for this competition I probably wouldn't have written it, so it's all good.

Time to start again.

Good luck!

Also, keep in mind the most important writing advice:  What works for one writer may not work for another.  It's all well and good to read advice by others, but advice from different writers will often conflict and will be based around their style of thinking and writing.  The advice, no matter how well-meaning, might be wrong for you.  :)





Thunderscreech

  • Lochage
  • *****
  • Posts: 343
Reply #6 on: August 08, 2012, 03:13:50 PM
Last time around, I had a story that came back as 4 words over the limit.  Turned out the word count the organizer used counted things differently than the tool I used, so I had another opportunity to trim.  :) 

Assuming there's no change in this regard, MS Word's word count will probably be the gold standard again.  Of course, if it's not, then hopefully the organizer will correct this mistaken assumption.  :)



Portrait in Flesh

  • Hipparch
  • ******
  • Posts: 1121
  • NO KILL I
Reply #7 on: August 08, 2012, 04:04:06 PM
Assuming there's no change in this regard, MS Word's word count will probably be the gold standard again.  Of course, if it's not, then hopefully the organizer will correct this mistaken assumption.  :)

Great googly moogly, yes, please let us know! Scrivener and Word don't always jibe when they count on their fingers and toes.

"Boys from the city.  Not yet caught by the whirlwind of Progress.  Feed soda pop to the thirsty pigs." --The Beast of Yucca Flats


eytanz

  • Moderator
  • *****
  • Posts: 6109
Reply #8 on: August 08, 2012, 04:27:56 PM
Very go :Dod question. I use ms word 2010 as my primary word count tool. If an issue will arise with asibmission because of a special vase - say, non-english words or some hyphenated words, i'll consider it on a case by case basis after discussing it with the author.



Umbrageofsnow

  • Hipparch
  • ******
  • Posts: 754
  • Commenting by the seat of my pants.
Reply #9 on: August 11, 2012, 05:30:22 PM
Oh crap, that brings up a weird level of panic for me.  I remember seeing different wordcount tools be thousands of words off from one another during NaNoWriMo, although there is a centralized online word count there.

Do you have any idea what the closest thing to Word is for those of us with absolutely no access to it.  I generally use www.wordcounttool.com because I find it usually tells me Drabbles are 100 words (a rarity), but I think I found it tended to underestimate rather than overestimate some things. I know the Google Docs one was particularly bad last time I checked.

I just realized that somewhere in my crazy head, my plan was to do a manual word count, but what if even that doesn't match with MSWord. AHHHHHHHHHHHhh.

Okay, now like a rational human being, I'd like to ask, if a story has a wordcount over the limit by more than single digits, do you notify the author and ask for a revision, or is there some hard line where it is dismissed.  Obviously, more than a couple pages is too much, but where is that line?

Anyway, I'll probably just write mine out by hand, ten words to a line if I think it is close to the limit. Because what else is graph paper for?

I assume this contest is bringing out latent insanities in everyone else?



eytanz

  • Moderator
  • *****
  • Posts: 6109
Reply #10 on: August 11, 2012, 05:48:29 PM
There's really no need to stress out about the word count. My goal is to make this contest be about the best contests and have participation be fun for everyone involved. So while I certainly will be making sure that the same rules apply to everyone equally, I have no intention to penalize authors because they used the wrong software.

First, the Ms Word word count algorithm, as far as I can tell, seems to be quite simple and easy to replicate - anything separated by whitespace is one word, regardless of what the content is. Most other word count systems available are stricter - for example, they might count hyphenated words as two words (while MS word counts them as single words).

In general, if I were to receive a story that would exceed the word count, I would notify the author of that. I will not count it as a submission, which means that the author can submit something else (for example, a fixed version) instead. I have not yet figured out what will happen with stories submitted towards the very end of the submission process, but I think I'll decide on a policy once I see how big a problem this will be - partially depending on whether this is actually going to be a real problem (as of now, I have no yet received a submission where the word limit was exceeded), how quickly I can check the submissions in the last few days, as I presume that there will be a relatively large amount.




eytanz

  • Moderator
  • *****
  • Posts: 6109
Reply #11 on: August 11, 2012, 05:52:17 PM
For reference, I double checked some of the stories I received so far with www.wordcounttool.com, and it never gave a smaller word count than MS Word did - in all but one case, it gave a higher word count, and in the last case the two tools agreed on the word count. So I think that if you use that, you are probably going to be safe.



Balu

  • Guest
Reply #12 on: August 12, 2012, 12:20:15 AM
I just realized that somewhere in my crazy head, my plan was to do a manual word count, but what if even that doesn't match with MSWord.

LOL. As well as for this, I was also over my word count on my 'preparing for practice' graded assignment for this year's exams.

I got around it by handing in a hard copy and relying on the tutours' unwillingness to count.

Worked a treat :)



Umbrageofsnow

  • Hipparch
  • ******
  • Posts: 754
  • Commenting by the seat of my pants.
Reply #13 on: August 12, 2012, 05:31:12 AM
Thanks for all the research, Eytanz!  Really appreciate it, both for here, and just to know. I was somewhat exaggerating my panic but that kind of stuff does bug me not to know.  And I'm running the most ghetto undead laptop with out-of-date Linux, no software, I'm lucky I get anything typed right now.  So I do everything by hand first anyway, paranoid I'll lose it (this is my third laptop this year).  Thanks again!

Balu, you're lucky I wasn't TA for that class, I'd have counted on the suspicion you were trying to get away with something!  Hand counts aren't actually too bad anyway, the average written line for a lot of people is 10 words if writing average-to-big, so you just have to keep a tally of +/- 10 and add it to a line count, which is easy.

And if you're hand counting your own work, just take a ruler, divide the page into tenths, one word per box, and a line count again.  You save time on longer things by knowing how many lines to a page.  I actually pre-rule some paper like that every so often anyway.

And that's todays lesson in obsessiveness.  Back on topic?