Sep 1, 2011

Being Too Concise

 I'm making my Friday blog post a day early because I won't be at a computer much tomorrow. We've got an appointment at the hospital to get Conor's test results back to see if they can tell us exactly what went wrong. Then in the evening we're going to a friend's wedding.

Sometimes I feel like I'm too concise in my writing. While the standard word count for an urban fantasy, whether adult or YA, is about 80,000 words, my final count for a first draft seems be staying around the 70,000 mark. I see other authors seemingly able to rattle off their drafts. Their big issue is working out what to take out to bring their ms down to a more manageable word count before querying, while more established authors get to publish ever-thicker novels.

My work is too long to be a novella, and for most non-fantasy fiction it's actually an appropriate length. It's just specifically urban fantasy that seems to be stuck with the flat word count target of 80,000.

Am I doing something wrong? Is there a danger that I'm getting to the point too quickly, or not filling my work with enough world-building, characterisation, or just plain old padding? Is it ever okay to pad out a work when you need an extra 5,000 words?


  1. Depends on what the padding is, to some degree. With the 80s fantasy novels, if you were to cut down on the descriptions of food, you'd shave 5k words off all of them.

    In modern urban fantasy, I reckon you could often cut out a lot of description of clothing - or put it in, since the genre seems to expect it. If your padding is adding atmosphere, rather than infodumping, and is well distributed, I see no problem with it.

  2. My first drafts are always way short. Then I go back in and add detail, dialogue, layers, filling things out. Adding words for the sake of word count never works, because if it doesn't help the story what's the point.

  3. I always write short. I had to add 20,000 words to my last book. I'd consider adding a subplot that can add character dimension and tie into the main plot in an interesting way. :)

  4. You can spot padding a mile away but I had no idea about this word count levels for different genres. That seems amazing to me.

    Anyways, the 2 book series that i can focus on where i got so annoyed at rehashed padding were the Necroscope books (brian lumley) where he'd describe in great detail the same one setting in every darn book.. sometimes twice even.. I hate skimming text but aargh. Now i understand why though and why the next set of books he did didn't really have this (as he would have been allowed longer books)

    The other set was the Wheel of time (robert Jordon) which after book 3 I remember being almost nothing except padding rambling waffle. Which was a shame because I really wanted to read more about Matt and.. the other guy and less about Rand and the stupid women's circles

  5. Drew: My first drafts often suffer from a bit of infodumping. :-) Atmosphere is probably something I could stand to add, though.

    KarenG: Exactly. The trick is figuring out what's missing from the story and adding that.

    Elizabeth: 20,000? Wow. I've considered a couple of subplot ideas. Especially to creating an arc to tie through the series.

    Quilla: Well there's also the need for a writer to provide re-caps or events, characters and places to refresh readers' memories if there's been a while between books. It's also preferable if a new reader can pick up any book in a series and still be able to understand what's going on despite not having read the previous ones.

  6. This is something I always have a problem with, and as such is something I am working on trying to rectify. It's a difficult balance to strike of telling as much as needed, without over- or under-loading people with description.

    I'll agree with the need to recap to refresh though. Definitely a skill to work on for me.

    My main two worries when it comes to descriptions are:

    1: Am I frontloading the descriptions too much?

    2: Does splitting the descriptions up break up the flow of dialogue and events?

    - Ellen J. Miller

  7. Ellen: I used to be terrible for heavy-handed descriptions. I'm working now to blend them more into the narrative.