Progress: 136,419 words, 16 Chapters (All 3rd Draft)
Here we go again.
A few days ago I quietly finished my third draft of Father’s Creed, and for the most part I accomplished what I had set out to do. I cleaned up the narrative, cut and moved scenes, enhanced the dialogue, rounded out characters, and heightened their story arcs. I’m very proud of the work, but when all was said and done, the word count is just too dang high.
You may say, well, a story requires as many words as it needs to tell the tale. Maybe, and there is really nothing wrong with the tale I’ve told. It’s good. I’d read it, and I think others would as well, but the next phase of this whole novel-writing endeavor is to find publication. Publishers, and the agents I’ll be seeking prior to reaching publishers, have requirements, or rather, filters.
These fine folks receive mountains of submissions from eager young (er, new) novelists like myself, and they will never have enough time to pore through each to find the gem amongst the phlegm. To even begin climbing their paper mountains, they must first turn them into hills. This means finding any reason they can to chuck good work out the window.
Spell the agent’s name wrong? Gone. Submit with a genre they weren’t asking for? Trash. Query letter is a yawn. Burn the pile. What I want to do is reduce my barrier to entry, and that very much includes my word count.
The rules for novel word count limitations are about as fluid as the rules for writing, but that’s no reason not to use existing publications to define an expected cutoff. There are word ceilings for every genre, sci-fi, fantasy, and historical fiction being some of the heavier loads in the business, but as elastic as your sweat pants may be, there is a breaking point.
From what I’ve read about historical fiction, the maximum acceptable length is set at 120k. For new authors (me) the max is usually set even lower.
I’m 16k over the seasoned author limit and, as crazy as it sounds, I have my sights set on cutting at least that much. To get there means not only keeping my editor’s hat firmly affixed, but to invoke my truly objective editor persona. I have to look at my novel as someone with no attachment to it whatsoever. I have to be the agent looking through submissions.
Beautiful scene giving a backstory that could be summarized into a few sentences? Gone. Characters that will warm your heart and make insightful observations about love and life but are not essential to the plot? Trash. An intimate scene between two key figures that give greater depth to their emotionally tested relationship which ruins a better transition between chapters? Set it ablaze.
What amazes me most (so far) in my writing journey is that I am perfectly capable of taking these actions: first spending months crafting wonderful imagery and dialogue, creating realistic people in believable situations, then understanding that those words can be sacrificed for the betterment of the whole.
As crazy as it sounds, I’ve already figured out how to cut a whole chapter, how to tweak the story to bypass scenes that slowed the pace, how to repurpose characters by combining them with someone else. Here’s the kicker. These changes won’t be that difficult to implement, which further tells me I’ve made the right choices.
When I finally send this thing off to agents, they may still reject me, but they will reject me only after I’ve made it through their filters and been tossed into the sifted hills. They’ll have to actually read it, and then I’ll know.
Happy writing, everyone!
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