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Always Too Many Words

by Ann H. Gabhart

Have you ever been asked to condense a novel you have written down into one sentence? Perhaps fifteen to twenty words? You are talking about a story that perhaps took you one hundred thousand plus words to tell and now somebody wants you to give them a one sentence description??

Impossible, you say. I am there with you. I’m a wordy person. I think words can fix things. I like telling stories with words. I need words to put my readers in the scene. You simply can’t write without words.

But… You knew that was coming, didn’t you? You can write with fewer words. Sometimes, if you’re like me, you should write with fewer words. There are times to worry about those fewer words and other times to not give the number of words you’re spilling out on paper or across your monitor screen a second thought. While you’re getting the story out of your head and onto that paper/screen, write every word. Rejoice when words tumble out to reveal your story and make your characters come to life. Don’t be overly concerned if you have a little echo of perhaps writing a similar scene or sharing a similar character trait a few chapters ago. Maybe it needs to be here and not there. That’s a problem for later. Right now you want to spill out that story, no matter how many words it takes.

Joy oh joy, eventually you come to that last line. You take a deep satisfying breath and sit back feeling good. You found the end. Your hero and heroine rode off into the sunset together or perhaps went on their separate ways. Whatever your story dictated for the perfect ending.

Rest on your laurels for a few days, weeks if you want, but sooner or later you need to come back to your story, turn or click to page one, and begin to make that beautiful story better. Now is the time to notice those redundancies or unnecessary scenes or well, dozens of things that you can change to make your story better.

For me, that is often cutting words. Many times when I finally get to those magic words the end, I’m way over my contracted word length. For my upcoming release, An Appalachian Summer, I ended up about 118,000 words. That was at least 18,000 words more than my publishers wanted to see from me. So, I had to start paring it down. The delete key was my best friend. Sometimes that delete key is painful as in this paragraph from An Appalachian Summer.

Some said she was a handsome woman. Handsome was a compliment for those who wore trousers. A handsome woman was only a stutter step removed from poor soul, she missed out in the looks department.

That last line, nineteen words, ended up on the cutting flour.

I also had to watch for pet words. Sometimes I use the same word over and over and now with these computer programs, they can actually count how many times I use “just” or “best” or whatever pet word sneaks into my current book. It’s not pleasant cutting that many words out of one’s book, but every time I’ve had to do it, I’ve ended up with a better book.

So be ready to write with a joyful writer’s spirit, and then edit with a serious got to make it better attitude. And while you’re doing all that editing, maybe, just maybe, that perfect fifteen word description will come to you about your story. If so, tuck it away to be ready when somebody asks you what your story is about. Me, I’ll still stutter and wonder how in the world to describe my story in one short sentence.

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Ann H. Gabhart, bestselling author of thirty-five novels, writes stories using Kentucky history and locations. She’s written about Appalachian history, Shakers, small town family life, and mystery (as A.H. Gabhart). She enjoys hiking with her dogs and grandkids on her Kentucky farm. For more about Ann, visit www.annhgabhart.com.

 

 

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2 Responses to Always Too Many Words

  1. Too little or too much to say;
    is it Heaven, is it hell?
    Can I somehow find a way
    this blessed balance, for to tell?
    I don’t want to die like this,
    nor to live as I once was;
    surely cancer can’t be bliss,
    but just as sure it is the cause
    of what has made me what I am,
    sundered from the man behind;
    companion now to Holy Lamb,
    companion now to Holy mind
    that knows the grace it’s moving toward
    without the need of single word.

  2. I think you may have the exact right number of words here, Andrew. Thanks for sharing.

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