Thursday, September 29, 2011

Sticking To Your Budget!

You’ve been put on a word budget and each one has an assigned value.

Sweating yet? The word “budget” pops up and the inside of your hands go moist. Your breath gets heavy and you have a sudden urge to pace. You can’t sit in one place and when your child skips in asking for a Popsicle, you march them right back out.

Being put on a budget?

Yeah, you’d rather have your toenails pulled out without anesthesia.

And yet when we sit down to write the next Great American Novel, we can be some of the most verbose, slack-jawed, quick-finger-typing maniacs that use every “and”, “was”, “that”, “just”, “because” and the list heads into infinity.

Our characters don’t just have “dialogue”, they chat amongst themselves for pages at a time about everything from what they ate for breakfast to the new haircut the lady in the fourth pew back in church got last Friday.

They don’t just drive to their destination, they observe all the lovely sagebrush whirling by their window, they see the deer leaping gracefully across the pasture and combine that image with the art gallery painting they saw last week on their date with the guy who was a total jerk and should have dumped yesterday.

I’m exhausted!

The typical novel is 90,000 words. Think about it, that’s not that many words. Yeah, when you’ve written the first 10K it can seem that way, but get halfway through the manuscript and suddenly you realize you still have a whole plot thread that STILL has to be resolved and you have NO IDEA how you can possibly close the thread in the next 30K.

It’s time to go on a budget.

When the goal is 90K and you end with 120K you need to go on a SERIOUS budget. The best way is to go through your manuscript with an eye for a few key things. As you edit you will see more and more that will need to be cut and condensed, but to cut a big chunk of those words that need to go now, here are a few tips of things to look for.

Before you start cutting your precious words think about it this way: you have been given $90,000 to spend on your work. $1 per word. WHICH ONES WOULD YOU CHOOSE? It puts it into perspective. If each “was” was worth $5 would you use as many? If each dialogue section could be totaled at $100 for a conversation about breakfast, would you include it?

Hopefully NOT!

Think of each word you write as having a value and you have to PAY for the privilege of using that word. Choose wisely, because you don’t want to miss out on words that can catapult your manuscript’s value.

“Grape-shot Budgeting”

·         Most “that’s” are NOT NEEDED. Don’t hyperventilate. Read it out loud and you’ll agree with me.

·         Condense dialogue. All “well’s” and “just’s” for example need to go. Make your dialogue punchy and filled with cutoffs and fragments (when it works). It heightens the tension.

·         Don’t describe something UNLESS it matters to the plot. If your heroine is driving across the desert should she give a detailed history of sagebrush? Hmmm, probably not.

·         Don’t let your character go on for pages and pages of introspection. Put action into those sections and once you state a point, DON’T keep going.

·         Cut ALL backstory and include as slivers through the stories. Your readers will be more intrigued and most of that backstory is more for your benefit than the readers anyway.

Grape-shot when fired scatters and takes a chunk out here and there.  When you go through that first couple of edits on your manuscript, these are some of the things you need to keep an eye out for. As the edits get more micro, you’ll still be deleting and tightening, but you aren’t going to dump all those excess words in one round. This is just a good start.

Take each word into careful consideration. Is it worth its weight to be included in the story? Does it truly contribute to the book? Those might seem like overwhelming and weighty questions, but once you start editing you will realize it has become second nature.

Word Budgeting is a great concept to keep in mind when you go through those edits. It can be hard to cut those words we spent so much time writing. But if each one has a value and that value equates the difference between a contract or not, which would you choose? Yeah, the love looses the shine really fast.

No go find a budget and stick to it!

**Photo courtesy of


Mary Vee Writer said...

Great points, Casey.
Placing a dollar value to each word is sure to help us slice unnecessary words. (hah--I sliced from this comment!!)

Joanne Sher said...

Ohhh, Casey. GREAT way to look at it. And advice I need. Just THRILLED you didn't tell me to do it in the rough draft, or I'd NEVER get it written!

Jeanne Takenaka said...

Casey, I love the way you expressed the need to be on a word budget. :) Great points. Now I'm commenting thinking about my words! LOL.

So I have a question for you more experienced writers. When you're working on your wip, do you "put it all on the page" and go back to trim down later, or do you think through your words as you're first writing to save on work later? I'm pondering this right now as a beginning writer. :)

Cindy R. Wilson said...

Casey, I like this way of looking at word count. I don't typically type over a specific word count when I've set one but I do tend to add in words that aren't necessary. I like to change those out for stronger words later or simply get rid of them if they're "justs" or "that's".

Jeanne, that's a great question and I'd say it probably varies for every writer, experienced, beginner, and so on. For me, I typically know what word count I'm aiming for and hit it pretty close. This, however, is without "putting it all on the page" as you said. I skimp on description and tags mostly and then go back and fill that in later. My biggest focus when writing that first draft is to make sure the plot flows, there are no holes, and the characters are developed. Then the next time through, I'll trim unnecessary words, dialogue, and weak verbs, and fill back in with strong verbs and more description of character or setting.

I love how it works differently for us all, though, as there isn't a right or wrong way of doing it :)

Faith said...

A very interesting way to think about it! For me I usually have to go back and add descriptions and more dialogue, because I tend to write a very short version first which have short scenes and little coversation. But that doesn't mean that I don't still have to cut stuff! Great post :)

Carradee said...

Nice thoughts, Casey, though I'm one of those writers who naturally writes short and has to figure out what description and such I missed. And, when I freelance, I actually am often paid by the word, so the analogy doesn't quite work for me. ^_^

Still, it's an interesting way of looking at things.

@Jeanne, there is no "wrong" way to approach drafting. It really depends on you. Some writers (who often draft better on computer) toss everything on the screen and edit later. Some (who often draft better in longhand) think things through before putting a word on paper.

And some of us (like me) edit as we go. For me, this works best on computer, particularly with—eh, there's no way to get into my method without turning it into a software plug. But beware if you try this method; it ends up being a procrastination time-suck, for most writers.

Casey said...

MARY, there is something about putting a $$ count to our words that makes it easier to slice and dice! ;-)

JOANNE, oh, no, never ever limit yourself during the rough draft. Write and write hard. Get it down and then slice. :)

Casey said...

JEANNE, you will get several different answers to that question, but the universal response is (and the way I write) is get the story down. You can NOT edit an empty page. For me the rough draft is very freeing and I can just write. Get the story written, get the words on the page and you've got something to work with. :)

CINDY, I write the same way. :) I write what comes to mind and then go back and write what should have come to my mind the third time. :)

Casey said...

FAYE, you are like many writers. And everyone has their own style. As long as when you are done (edits and all) you've got a book, you've succeeded. Keep on writing, girl!

CARRADEE, thanks so much for weighing in with your thoughts! Great opinions all the way around. :) And yes, I can imagine freelance would be different. You just have to make your words count. ;-)

Tracy Krauss said...

Well said! (I decided for the short and sweet response since I'm on a budget ...)

Kate McClare said...

Thank you SO much for putting this out there. Nothing frustrates me more as an editor than a writer who submits twice the agreed-upon word count "in case you need more." Writers, please don't complain about cheap rates if you're going to essentially cut your fee in half by submitting twice the copy!