Tuesday, January 24, 2012

How much is too much?

I love to read. I always have. But am finding now that I'm writing, that we tend to get caught up in word count.
Yes you need to describe your characters and set your scenes, but do you really need to describe the mole on the right hip of her third cousin? Unless there's a certain significance to it.  Do you have to have their agenda minute by minute, hour by hour, and day by day? How much is too much? And how much is not enough?
When you pick up a book and it drones on and on, do you lose your interest, thinking to yourself, "They really didn't need all that" Can your story be told in 25,000 words compared to 50,000? How much is lost when you cut back, or add more? I guess the big question is, "How much do you put out there vs. how much you let your reader's imagination work?"
And once they read it will they remember it, or at least a part of it?

I used to read Romance novels when I was younger, now I write them and read other genres, but I can remember this one novel (I read it like 20 years ago) well the basic outline of it, as if I read it last week.
It was a Harlequin novel, I have no idea who wrote it (and that's the sad part, but I have always been terrible with names) but it has stuck in my head and I wanted to share just the basic plot of it with you and we will see if I can keep it short, I don't know I get kind of wordy sometimes.

This is what I remember;

There was a count, duke, whatever (See, what he was didn't make an impression on me) He lived in a big castle. (Where? I don't remember) He had been injured and had lost his sight temporarily or at least they hoped it was only temporarily. So a young, overweight, plain looking woman was hired to take care of him. All the mirrors had been removed and placed in the basement. (Still don't know why, because his eyes were bandaged and he couldn't look in them anyway) She had low self esteem and he was a cranky person with the attitude of "Why me?" Kind of like "Beauty and the Beast" Anyway, every night after he fell asleep she went down and went skinny dipping in the pool and over time she had to take in her clothes so they would fit. Now remember there are no mirrors to look into. Over the course of let's say six months, he was falling in love with her. She was kind and caring. Something he had never experienced before. So on the day the bandages were to be removed she didn't want him to see her, in her mind she was fat and ugly. So when they removed the bandages and he could see, she wasn't in the room and he went searching through the castle looking for her. Finding her, she told him he didn't want to see her, because she was ugly and not good enough for him and he took her down to the basement where the mirrors were and made her look in the mirror at her own reflection and she was beautiful. She was in great shape from the nightly swims, and her hair and skin glowed from eating right and on and on...

 I am looking at this from a reader's point of view and not the writer's point of view.
Put yourself in your reader's shoes for a minute...
How much is too much and what will they remember?
Hopefully they won't be like me and forget who wrote the book.

Just a last note check out http://www.genreality.net/its-all-about-the-details, I think their blog post works well with mine today!


  1. I have to go with the infuriatingly diplomatic "it all depends" answer. Because truly, it really does depend on the story, the reader, and the detail.

    Typically, I'll only crave more detail if I haven't read enough information to really picture the story. Sometimes, a writer is so skilled at describing vivid and original details that I'll relish what she does choose to include, and I've crave some more.

    But most of the time? I rarely think "I wish there was more description here."

    For what it's worth, I teach reading to college students. Guess which parts they most often skip?

    1. Hi Lori
      Yes I think it falls back to the reader and the phrase, "You can't please all the people all the time"

  2. Oh, I didn't really answer your question about what readers will remember.
    It's typical, but the primary thing I remember is how I felt when reading the book. Second to that, I remember the new ideas I had in response to reading the book. Sometimes, if it's really delicious, I'll remember a particularly good phrase or two.

  3. There is a fine line between too much detail and not enough, and the best authors have achieved that. As far as remembering goes, I think the story will stick with people if it's written well.

    1. Yes there is a fine line there, but I still think a lot of it has to do with who's reading it. I entered a Writer's Digest contest last year. It was, write a life changing moment in your life in 150 words. So I told myself, "I can do this"
      Well, 675 words later, it was time to edit and I thought I was doing okay, 274 words! Ugh still more editing to do. I finally did manage to get my story told, my point across, and still show the emotional impact with the 150 words. And no I didn't win, or even make it to the honorable mentions, but it was a challenge and a great editing experience.

  4. This is an awesome reminder. I just read "Inheritance." I LOVED it, but it really could have been 3/4 of the size it was. If they would have just condensed it, the story would have been even more exciting and impacting.

    1. Hi Elisabeth
      I find even the the best of writers can get wordy too.
      I keep telling myself to pick up and read the copy of Stephen King's "Under The Dome" But 1000 plus pages...Yikes! Hopefully he needed every word. And I thought "IT" was long at 600 plus pages. :-)

  5. I know what you mean. When I wrote my first book, I didn't pay attention to word count. Now working on the second book in the series, I'm checking the count like every few seconds it seems like. Sometimes we have to remember it's not the amount of words we use, it's what the words we use say. If it can be said it one, say it in one. Now I just need to remember that myself when I'm working.

  6. That is a perfect explanation Bridget. I was the same way with my first book it came in at 95,000 words and yet the second book just made it to 55,ooo but it's done. I don't want to put more into it, because it would feel like overkill.

  7. Hmmm. . .how how long should I make my comment? What will the reader remember about it? :) I can only respond as a humor writer, because newspapers dictate my wordcount. They generally prefer between 500-700 words per column. I've written so many columns now that my essays tend to naturally fall within that range. But sometimes I want to tell a story and can't do it within those constraints. Sometimes ideas and characters need to be more developed to do the story justice. Then it will be remembered!

    1. Hi Lisa! Did you keep your comment under your 700 WC? lol! You're type of writing is actually a perfect example. You've got to write what you are thinking, grab the reader's interest, get your point across, and impress them in 700 words or less. I think my basic point is, that we tend to be obsessed with the word count vs. quality of the story. Sometimes we need to leave things to the reader's imagination. Even Stephen King will tell you that there's a green hairy monster under the bed, but leave the rest up to your imagination as to, does it have red eyes? Or sharp teeth?


Leave a comment. I'd love to hear your viewpoint