Monday, April 20, 2009

Less is More {or Less}


Had a great response for the Platform Group Therapy! (And it's not really therapy, ya'll, so much as just getting us thinking and writing about how we can connect with people who might be interested in our subject matter!) I'll be sending out an email latter on today, probably.

I'm curious what my writing buddies think about less is more. In today's society, this hardly seems accurate. The more you have of something, the better. (Ah...otherwise I wouldn't have 15 women interested in having MORE of a platform.) But when it comes to writing, haven't we all heard less is more?

Some possible meanings: 1) less prose to convey more; 2) less pages to cover more action; 3) less telling, more showing (doesn't quite fit the analogy...but we've all heard this). Sure, readers son't want to sit around reading a 987-page novel (although I'm sure there are a few historians out there who don't think this is enough to quote get the time period across). So many of us are working withint page-limit boundaries for category-type books, and those who are working on single titles don't want to go much more over 100,000-120,000 words or editors will gawk at your word count.

Q4U: How do we manage this? Are there some tried and tested rules you use to make sure you keep within a certain limit? Do you rely on a crit partner (like I do) to tell you when you should leave some little additional detail off? How do you decide what to cut and what NOT to leave to the reader's imagination?

Wordle: signature

17 comments:

Jill Kemerer said...

This topic interests me.

In order to stay on track with my category length romances, I do tons of planning before I write, including making up a scene list. This helps me stay on track with my main plot points. I know I have a certain range of words for each scene block.

When I'm editing, I ruthlessly cut as much repetition as possible. I can't tell you how often I'll find the heroine thinking something, only to turn around and say the exact same thing out loud!

I quite enjoy the mantra (I can't remember who originated it) "books are life--minus the boring parts." Do readers really need to know my heroine's toothbrushing routine? Ah...no.
I'm looking forward to reading other writer's comments on this topic!

PatriciaW said...

Crit partners help (thanks Jeannie!) I'm also fairly ruthless in editing once I've put a little distance between myself and the scene or chapter. Even a few days make a difference.

Jessica said...

Great questions. It's tough, I think, to do this. I try not to over explain emotions but use actions instead to convey the emotion. But there comes a time to tell too. Oh well. If you figure this writing thing out, let me know. :-)

Jody Hedlund said...

In my current WIP my editor is helping me add more details where I've missed them. I've been trying to write tight and so maybe have gotten too tight! I think it helps to have a critical eye looking at our work to see what we're missing!

Eileen Astels Watson said...

Oh, man, I guess my critique group does help majorly with this. When I write, I try not to patronize the reader by telling all, and I also try to leave hints to give the reader something to keep looking for. If I can accomplish that, then I've probably struck a good balance. Good question, Jeannie!

Jeannie Campbell said...

sounds like a lot of us utilize other readers (editors, crit groups) to do this for us. nothing wrong with that!

Lynnette Labelle said...

Critique group all the way. I wouldn't trust myself to do it alone. I fall in love with the words and then can't recognize if what I've written is too much or if I've forgotten to add enough details. You know, so the written page matches the image in your head?

Lynnette Labelle
http://lynnettelabelle.blogspot.com

scott g.f. bailey said...

A lot of what drives word counts in today's world is the economics of the publishing industry. It costs less to print a shorter book, but people want value for their money so publishers are looking for 200-300 pages. It has little to do, I think, with any shift in reader expectations or desires, though publishing is to a large extent training readers to think books should not be long. The success of novels like "The Legend of Edgar Sawtelle" show that people are willing to spend more time with a book, but first-time authors will have a hard time selling something that long.

I don't worry about word count, but I do worry about my prose and like everyone else here, I look out for repetitions (I realized that an entire scene I had was just two characters recapping what had just happened in the previous chapters, so I cut it despite some truly lovely dialog) and unnecessary exposition.

Jeannie Campbell said...

scott...*sigh* i hate cutting lovely dialogue.

Cindy said...

I definitely believe in the less is more theory. I've been making faces at this manuscript I've been working on all day because there are many parts that are redundant. Or they tell something that happened in a different way. I've cut out so many parts because I'm still getting the point across in less words. I think a critique partner is an excellent way to weed out these parts because sometimes they're hard to see on our own.

Jeannie Campbell said...

amen, cindy! crit partners are angels in disguise using microsoft Track Changes.

Lady Glamis said...

It is definitely hard to see what needs to be cut when you are so close to your manuscript. Critiques do help, and so does time away from the WIP, I think. Which is what I'm doing now. I hope that when I return to it, I'll be able to see what is unnecessary.

The key to most great stories is to delight the reader, and oftentimes, if the writing is bogged down, it's hardly delightful.

Jeannie Campbell said...

i like that , lady glam..."delight the reader." i need to remember that, as well as to respect them. i just wrote a post on that a while back.

Liana Brooks said...

Don't ramble. Stay on topic. Cut everything that isn't helping the plot. Granted... the reader may not get what you're saying or understand how this is developing the plot for another chapter or five, but you as the author know.

So don't waste space on rolling hills or ancient battles unless they become relevant. Case in point: In LOTR Aragorn spends several chapters talking about Luthien. It's a fairy story. Most readers see it as a down time in the story. But it's actually foreshadowing of something to come.

Tess said...

Ooo, this goes hand in hand with what I am reviewing for a post I'm planning.

Bruce Hale said, "trust your audience - let them fill in the missing parts. Let the reader be smart."

I love that.

Katie said...

I just write the first draft without worrying about less is more. I usually lean on the side of waaaaaay more for my first draft. And then, no joke, I cut about 20,0000 words from my first draft during revision. Crazy, I know. But it's how I work.

Terri Tiffany said...

I have the opposite problem if not writing long enough! I am used to writing short stories so have to work at being sure my dialogue is to the point but enough. I loved reading the responses.