Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Too Many Words?

Paula wonders how to cut or condense parts of her current 'work in progress'.

On Monday, our local paper reported on some filming in Manchester city centre for the film ‘Genius’ which evidently centres on the career of Max Perkins. He was an editor at Scribner, and oversaw the works of Hemingway, F.Scott Fitzgerald, Thomas Wolfe, and others. We’ll bypass the fact that Jude Law and Colin Firth were there in my own city being filmed – and I missed them (grr!)

What interested me was the comment in the report about Thomas Clayton Wolfe. He was described as being ‘hopelessly attached to every word he wrote’, and often submitted novels 'hundreds of pages too long'.

Why was I interested? Well, while not wanting to compare myself with an important American novelist, I’m on the verge of a similar problem. Unlike him, however, I recognise that my current novel is probably too long. Most modern romance novels are between 60,000 and 100,000 words (including my previous ones), but this new one has just gone over the 100K mark, with three or maybe four more chapters still to write, so it could end up with 120,000+ words. I know that’s not hundreds of pages too long, like Thomas Wolfe, and I’m not hopelessly attached to every word, so some careful editing will probably get rid of about 5,000 words.

However, I still feel I will need to get it down to under 100K, which means I may have to cut some scenes. My problem is that each scene in my story contributes something to the overall plot and/or to the characters, and is invariably needed for some later development of the story. I keep going through the different scenes in my mind, wondering if I could cut them, but each time I end up saying to myself, “No, I need that scene because … (whatever!)

The other alternative may be to start the story ‘later’ in the plot – but then I would lose some important early scenes, which prepare the ground for what happens later.

I’m in a real dilemma at the moment – and keep hoping ‘something’ is going to jump out and me, and tell me just what I can cut or at least condense!


  1. It's a better problem to have than not having enough, although I feel your pain. You might want to just finish writing all of it and have someone else read it for that specific purpose.

    1. It's a problem I've never had before, as I can usually gauge the length of my novels fairly well - but not this time! And that's a good idea, Jen, as I'm too close to the story to see what could be cut. I need someone who can be more objective, and also honest with me - although it will hurt to 'kill my darlings', as they say!

  2. I tend to have the exact opposite problem! Needing to add words to get it up to full print-length!

    Good luck. It is hard to part with those words you've coaxed onto the page. It just seems hit 'delete'. Once when I did have to cut a large scene, I kept it as an 'out-take' which I plan to post on my of these days.

    1. Debra, I've already deleted chunks of this story while I was finding my way with it - but the chunks are all saved in an out-take file (in case I can use any of them in future!). I think I may be adding more to that file by the time I'm finished with this story LOL!