Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Q's Sneaky, Tricksy Word Count Killer

*  *  *  *  * WORD COUNT

Innocuous enough words--or so you'd think. When they're paired together, these two innocent little devils can illicit dread and flop sweats in the burliest and hardened of writers. (Unless you're one of those who under-write, in which case I envy you.) Fantasy writers especially are notorious for having hefty, intimidating, bloated word counts. (See what I did there with three adjectives? Don't do that. That's partly to blame for your unnecessarily massive word count.)

I'm definitely guilty of this. (Although not the the extreme, 600k counts I've seen mentioned in the wilds of the interwebz.)

Right now, I'm at 101,696. My highest was 102,600-ish. I've managed to cut down 1k in the past day or so, but it's not enough. And now I might need to add an epilogue? It's almost enough to want to crawl into my Word Cave (*cough* blanket fort *cough*) and not come out. What?? Batman gets one...

My initial reaction would be panic, because it's what I do, but panic is not going to help me. Alpha reader #2 told me she'd kill me if I cut anything, and I assured her I'm not going to cut any more scenes. Yet. Probably. So how else to get back down to that 95k range I'm aiming for? 

Sneaky editing that tricks my brain into thinking I'm not losing anything.

That's right. 

So here's it is:  

Q's Sneaky, Tricksy Word Count Killer   
(working title: trademark/copyright/patent/urban dictionary entry pending.) 
 ((also...lots of other people do this...I'm not actually claiming credit for this method.))

 **WARNING: This should be one of the last things you do. Editing on a word level like this when you might have chapters/scenes/paragraphs/sentences to cut would be a waste of time. Do the big edits first, then when you need to nickle and dime your word count down, try this.


Go to www.Wordle.net and create a beautiful word cloud of your own.

It might be ugly. You might want to cry. But it's necessary. Trust me.

Here's mine, so you don't feel so bad. 

I'm a visual person, and I like how this puts everything into perspective. Some of the words should be big. Serenity is the main character. Jinn, Pax, Dilly...they're also big characters. Magic and Harvesters are also understandably big. The ones you're looking for are the words that shouldn't  be big. 

Look at the word "like." It's as big as Jinn, the name of the love interest. That's messed up. There's no reason I should use the word like 400 times in my book. Yeah, I enjoy a good simile as much as the next girl, but still. The words "like" and "just" make up almost 1% of the words in my book. 



But good, too, because I can SEE how disproportionate their usage is. That means I can change it. Most of these should probably be nouns. (Proper nouns would be better, but I'll forgive you if certain nouns are necessary for your worldbuilding...like magic...or wells, if, like me, there are a massive number of wells in your book...) If you're using a verb enough for it to show up in your cloud (mine are "feel" and "see") then you should try to be more creative with your verb usage. Wordle gives you the option of not including "invisible" words such as and and the since of course they'll be used a lot.


Using Word's search function, go through your book looking for your rogue words. Make sure the "whole word" option is checked. Trust me; it'll make things go faster.

It might take some creativity to rephrase sentences to eliminate the offending word, but you'll end up cutting even more words from your bloated word count that way. And maybe while you're in super ninja hack n' slash mode, you'll see other nearby things that could be cut altogether.


Some words might not be used enough to show up in your word cloud, but they're still words you should use sparingly, if at all. Here's a list of things you might want to search for while you're doing your word-purging. Some of them won't be deleted, so it won't help your word count, but you can still find better words to replace them. Some really are unnecessary. (Does your character really need to shrug/sigh/nod there? Really? Reaaaaaaally??) Make sure you're honest with yourself. Filler actions can often be deleted without detracting from your story, and it will actually make for a cleaner read.

(Depending on what tense you write in, you might have different versions of these...i.e. feel instead of felt.)

Have to
Began to (Just state the action. Same with below.)
Started to
up/down (Standing and sitting imply the up/down already. He can just sit, instead of sit down.)
as/while (Is there an over-explainy bit tacked onto your sentence? Is it necessary?)
Literally (Is it reaaaaally literal?)
Suddenly (Only use to indicate a sudden change in a character's behavior, not as a dun dun duuuun sort of notification that something's about to happen.)
ly (Search for adverbs. Uncheck whole words only for this.)
ing (If you're guilty of overusing progressive tense.) 

Intensifiers, Superlatives, and such:  
(Find a better adjective/verb instead. One strong verb is better than a weak verb and a modifier)
Rather (unless used comparitively) 
Much more

Filter words:
(These words distance the reader from the experience. Instead of Suzy heard a bang, describe the bang. Instead of Suzy noticed a piece of paper was stuck to his shoe, just say A piece of paper was stuck to his shoe. And yeah...I suck at examples. Shut up.) ^_^


The ugly cousin of filter words--to himself/to herself. 

She thought to herself. 

Do you really need the thought filter? Fine. But you never need the 'to herself.' It's redundant.

Overused actions:
(for these, uncheck the whole word only box and just search for the shortest form...instead of searching individually for shrug/shrugged/shrugging/shrugs, search for shrug.)


If you do decide to uses these, for the love of coffee, get rid of any over-explainy bits. (He shrugged his shoulders. He nodded his head.)

This is a sneaky one--starting sentences with conjunctions. This happens a lot, and it's not always necessary. (I'm SO guilty of this one.) Also, overusing it undermines the effect when you do want to use it for emphasis or stylistic reasons.

Search for 
. And
. But
. Then
. So

Ask yourself honestly if it's necessary. If not, axe it.


Dance party!

So that's it! 

It may be painful and tedious and time consuming, but doing a "search" edit like this will cut out fluff and make your writing tighter.

Good luck! 

(And here's hoping that writing this post has me pumped up enough that I can follow my own advice and let the purge-fest begin.)

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