We’ve all heard it. Get your word count down. Less is more. Kill your darlings. More than 100K is the kiss of death for a first book. Yada yada yada.
The reason we writers hear this is because we usually have words to cut. That includes published as well as unpublished authors. Except for a few freaks, most writers start with more than they need and remove the excess after the initial writing is complete. This is perfectly normal and even useful. Restraint at the beginning can go overboard and kill your darlings before they get born. That’s a euphemism for giving yourself writers’ block by preemptive editing.
TT: I’m a freak who starts with a little (usually dialogue) and has to add more, so if you intend to be offended by that word, well…get over it.
I absolutely agree that most of the time words can be cut. I think of it as the difference between Buffy the Vampire Slayer the TV show and Babylon 5. Joss Whedon writes with restraint, using few words and relying on his actors and the situation to convey meaning. Babylon 5 (and I do like the show) suffers from soap opera-like verbal diarrhea. It’s like the writers were told “never allow a moment when someone isn’t talking” and they didn’t. Boy, did they not. Too bad, really. It’s what kept a mediocre show with a big budget from being a good show.
Anyway, in the past year and a half, I’ve read a lot of really good books where my main complaint is they hurried me along when I wanted to linger a spell. Yes, I appreciate action and tension and all that, but some things are worth a pause in the action. Some concepts demand a moment of reflection. Some places require additional description. But I wasn’t given those chances to linger and it annoyed me.
I suspect the reason was word count. Somebody somewhere said to the author, “This part is kinda boring. You don’t really need it and it just slows things down.”
Yes, some scenes aren’t necessary. But sometimes they are. Sometimes that long interaction over a bolt of cloth is about more than the bolt of cloth (wink at … you know who you are). Granted, I can’t always see when I’ve made my point and now I’m just poking a dragon for no reason, but I refuse to remove scenes and cut words just because I can remove scenes and cut words. Remove enough scenes, remove enough words, and you’re left with nothing. Nothing is just as bad as too much.
It’s a fine line. I get that. Most people do go overboard and need to pull back. I’m just saying there are times when more is OK. Sometimes, more is great.
So cut carefully, my friends, and get more than one opinion on whether a scene is unnecessary. You’re writing to the masses and that includes us freaks who may want to linger in the world you’ve created. Don’t deny us because of word count.