Sunday, 28 February 2010

INFLATION who'd have thought a novel could suffer from it too

My teenage daughter changed, almost overnight. She became the proud possessor of every classical cliche imaginable. She took her school's strict uniform regulations and identified ways to bend, if not break every one.

  • Tights went from woollen to barely-black
  • Her skirt got shorter by three turns of the waistband
  • And don't remind me about the discussions on whether black was an appropriate colour to wear under her school shirt

She discovered boys were not just irritations or class members to compete against.

And no - Jess Trainer is not my Minnow in book form. However, if I want an anecdote to add realism there is no substitute for having a daughter with hundreds of friends - someone has always done something that sparks the necessary train of thought to get the writing moving again.

So, I wrote a story of how one girl fell, fast and hard for the boy she should not have been attracted too.

Worried about the word count I described EVERYTHING - I didn't want to write a short book - but I found my manuscript was completed at nearly 130,000 words. It had a severe case of inflation. Letting the air out was a long and painful thing. Some sections I had slaved over were the first to go. This was hard. It took a year and three revisions to trim the tale to 72,000 words and still keep every plot line going and every character fully rounded.

But I revised - word by word - the entire book. I became (am) totally obsessive about the thing. I learned how to polish. Vocabulary selection and word order could not remain untampered, I was heading for a book where subtlety and nuance reigned.

Then I was shown a historical romance written by someone with a masterly control of punctuation - it glowed with a purple glow visible from the other side of the room. I discovered that writing a novel is not about using perfect grammar because there was no heart in the work at all.

Eventually the tinkering stopped.

Until the next time I open the pages


  1. No worries, my first novel had 124,196 which after 4 revisions got down to 95,600. That's the hardest part of tinkering, I agree, to make sure what you don't take out is the voice. Good luck.

  2. i had to start my cutting with these dream sequences that i thought were totally awesome. but i didn't get the idea until later in the novel, aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaand i couldn't find any places in the beginning stages where they'd fit. i was sad, but it needed to be done.

  3. also, i might be a moron. which link am i looking for? *one of those days*

  4. I can't imagine cutting 50,000 words! That must have been tough. My manuscripts tend to be short so I'm always working in the other direction-- trying to flesh out characters and add plot lines.

  5. I wonder with people who self-publish how they know when their manuscript is finished with edits (or maybe some don't know?). When I used to groom dogs I would keep snipping tiny stray hairs until the owner dragged them away, I think for my novels I would need someone to yell 'stop already, it's DONE'.
    Great post and thanks for visiting my blog too :-)

  6. Hi Anne and Charmaine
    That need to cut until the story is told without clutter is the real lesson for writers. I find I read on at least two different levels now.
    Trimming? I do it the way I cut my partner's hair - a curl by curl, hair by hair experience.

    My third revision, the serious one, was a red pen and printed manuscript one. Everything looked so different on paper. I'd have sworn I was done after two computer re-edits but I live to learn.

    I hated cutting descriptions that were poetically beautiful most - kept reminding myself I wasn't writing poetry!
    I popped by your Blog with "the where."

    Hi Natalie
    Welcome to the Blog! Nice to meet you.
    If you'd read my book in the original form you would not doubt that 50,000 words were going spare.
    Running short must be frustrating, too. Good Luck with your writing.

  7. Oh darling, it's so hard to cut your baby to shreds, isn't it? I've been there, am still there. I've pretty much cut my ms in half, and what a painful task that was. But so glad to hear you're well on your way with yours.

    And I hear you on the sudden change in children. It goes so fast doesn't it? But yes, what great material for stories surround them.

  8. Sounds like you have a very creative daughter and the possible makings of a saucy character in you next book. I have two boys, thank goodness.

  9. Sounds like the book I've got marinating :) It started at double the word length!

  10. thanks, elaine! much appreciated :-)

  11. My third novel - a kinda women's fiction - remains at 117,000 because I just can't face cutting nearly 20k from my sweat and tears.

    Some day though; it'll have to be started, then finished. I feel with you.