Wednesday, July 11, 2018

Fixing a Novel That's Too Long

A while ago, I blogged about fixing a novel that's too short. Now I want to look at the opposite problem: a novel that's too long.

First of all, this is a problem. Some agents and publishers will reject manuscripts based on the word count alone. An unusually long book might also overwhelm readers, who aren't sure they want to invest that much time in a new author. A swollen word count can also be a sign of problems in the writing, suggesting the plot is unfocused or the author tends to ramble.

When assessing your manuscript's length, make sure you're looking at the word count, not the page count. Compare this word count to the word counts of published books in your genre and age group, especially recent books from debut authors. You can also check out this post from LitRejections to get an idea of word count ranges in different genres. 

Of course, there are some exceptions -- books that have become hits despite their mammoth size. But getting published is already hard enough. You don't have to make it harder for yourself by trying to be an exception.

If your manuscript's word count is way outside genre norms, you're going to need to cut it. Here are some ways to do that.

Conquer and Divide

It's possible you've written two or more books, not one. You may be able to keep all the content you've written by dividing it into two or three books.

But be careful -- you need to make sure each books stands on its own. 

Don't just divide the word count by two or three and call it a day. You'll need to make sure each books has a complete plot with a satisfying end. This will almost certainly take some rewriting and reorganizing on your part. 

  • Do you have a subplot that can be reworked as the main plot?
  • Do you have a false ending -- a point that feels like it could be the ending but isn't? If so, you might be able to rework it as the real ending of the first novel. 

Depending on the structure of your book, this option might not work for you. Let's look at other possibilities. 

Remove Threads

Sometimes trimming your word count means getting rid of things -- big things, like characters and subplots. It may be hard to delete characters and events that you love, but doing so might help your book become more focused. 

  • Does the plot meander too much? You don't want the plot to be overly simple or linear, but you want some degree of focus. Try to summarize the main plot in a sentence. Can you do it? If not, you may need to trim some plot elements.
  • Do you have subplots that don't add much to the story? Cut them.
  • Do you have so many characters it's hard to keep track of all of them? Get rid of them, or combine some of them. 

This type of cutting will require some rewriting and reorganizing on your part. You'll have to go through the entire manuscript to remove every trace of the thread.

Remove Scenes and Chapters  

This can be a little easier than removing characters and subplots, but it can still be brutal.

  • Did you feel compelled to show every event? Let's say the character has to travel. If the trip is interesting, or if important things happen along the way, show it. But if the trip is boring, just make it clear that the trip happened and cut to the next scene. 
  • Can you chop off the first chapter (or two or three) and still have the story make sense? Do it!
  • Does every scene and chapter add something unique to the story? If not, cut them.

Go Line-by-Line

If you're at all wordy, you can probably cut a lot of words just by doing line edits. 

  • Do you overuse words like "just," "that," and "very"? Cut as many instances as you can.
  • Do you have too much description? Get rid of some. 
  • Do you have redundant sentences? For example, do you show that a character is angry through the actions and then tell the reader that the character is angry? Deleting the "telling" part will make your writing stronger and reduce your word count. 

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