How to Fit Your Word Count: Cutting Edition

One of the things I’ve enjoyed the most about doing a CW degree, is seeing my own and others’ attitude towards word counts change. In first year, a 1500 word essay seemed almost unmanageable but now 2500 words are never enough.

I’ve talked a lot about word counts on this blog lately, and here is my list for quickly cutting words to make sure your story can fit your set word count:

1. Are there any scenes you can remove?
Cut any scenes that don’t move the plot or develop your characters!
Of course, if you’re writing a book with a 100K words, you can afford to put in a page of pure location description, or have a couple of slow scenes that set the tone more than drive the plot. However, when you only have 2500 words to establish a plot, your backstory and characters, plus create an interesting story, scenes that don’t drive the plot are a luxury you can’t treat yourself to.

2. Can you shorten the beginnings of any scenes?
A bit like with poetry, it’s easy to make the beginning a bit wordy as you often think you need to explain concepts you don’t need to explain. Instead of wordy introductions to each scene, get right in on the action! This helps your pacing and gives you more words to play with for the exciting and intriguing parts.

3. Can you remove any characters?
Removing characters might mean removing whole stretches of dialogue or entire scenes, but if what’s conveyed in said dialogue or scene can be shown in a different scene, then this might drastically shorten your word count, making you able to put more story in there.

4. Give all your characters names!
This might seem like a stupid one, but one I figured out while writing my dissertation. As I was writing a piece of children’s fiction told from the perspective of a child, I decided to have the narrator call another character’s parents “Georgie’s mum” and “Georgie’s dad”, simply based on the fact that kids rarely think about parents having names at all. However, this meant that every time I mentioned these characters I had to spend two words on them, and by giving the parents their own one-word names, I was able to cut one word per mention, which actually turned out to be quite a few words in the end.

Note: I’m not saying to not do this ever, of course. It’s a fun way of talking about people in writing, but it’s important to think through whether it’s worth using up your word count for it.

5. Remove the “that”s!
Leave the “that”s where they’re grammatically correct, but don’t overuse them. This post/article actually explains it really well! Apparently the word “that” is so overused in writing, that four different lecturers felt the need to warn us about it in first year. I never remember to heed their advice while writing, but never forget it while editing either.

6. “Kill Your Darlings”
In writing situations, your “darlings” are scenes, ideas, sentences and description that you as the writer loves, but that might not do anything for the story. These darlings have often stayed with the piece from the first draft, and often end up fitting the story a little awkwardly, as they don’t change with the piece as it develops. This can lead to parts of your story reading a bit awkwardly, like you’re taking a break from the actual story to shoehorn in this beautiful, poetic sentence, that really doesn’t do much for the plot.
Getting rid of such “darlings” might be a team effort; you might need the help of someone who aren’t as attached to these phrases as yourself to clear them out.

Most of these tips are tailored to writing fiction, but some can also be transferred into non-fiction, copywriting and any type of writing, really. I hope this could be of some use to someone, if only as a reminder of something you already know!

Have a lovely day,
-Andrea

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“I Think I’m Dreaming”, cutting two thousand words and wrapping up uni with a bang

“Compelling from start to finish, the writing really takes us into your imagined world of the future, which although futuristic, finds authenticity in current fears about surveillance, work-life balance and control.”

Remember this, the story that never ended? The creative piece I struggled so much with finishing that I started doubting everything I’ve ever done, all throughout my BA?
Yep. Got it back yesterday, and almost started crying when I saw that my lecturer liked it, and gave it a neat little 74. 74! On the piece I had to cut 2000 words off to make it fit in the word count! So happy!

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Okay, let’s recap the last 15 hours of working on this piece, the hours that didn’t make it into the writer’s log, just because of the sheer despair and dread (dramatic, I know) I was feeling at the time.

On the 22nd of May, I sat down in the early hours of the morning and finished the draft of the creative piece. The reason I found it so difficult to actually write the piece, was because the idea was just too big for the given word count and I didn’t know what to focus on. So, I figured I’d just write everything I wanted, and then cut it down to the correct amount of words later.

Big mistake. 

The finished draft was well over 5000 words long, meaning that I had to cut another assignment’s equivalent of words out of it, to get down to my correct 2500 words.

Andrea Wold Johansen Writing Nook Swanage

‘Lemme tell you, there were so many cups of tea involved in this, and the entire day was spent in pyjamas to stay somewhat comfortable. And I pulled out all of the tips from my Tricking Motivation series, to get through the day.

I printed out the full 5000-word draft multiple times, to work with pen on paper and physically strike big red lines through sentences and words that needed to go. To make my job easier I also made a little check list of things that normally clog my wordcounts, which will appear in it’s own post tomorrow. Was just thinking maybe this list could be helpful for others too!

However, I wasn’t alone on this last leg of the journey, I brought Harvey into this with me too; he edited, read and re-read, and really helped me cut out words and sometimes entire paragraphs. All credit to him and his patience for dealing with me. Finally, after a bit over 15 hours of work, the piece reached 2748 words, and knowing that I was finally within the correct word count was such a relief!

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I mean, I would’ve absolutely loved this process to look like this, but it most definitely did not.

Anyway, the reason why I’m telling you all this, is because I’m going to post the finished piece in a minute, I just wanted to let you know what happened after the writer’s logs, haha.

Like I said, it’s a sci-if-sequel, speculative piece set in England, a long time in the future. I’ve never really written neither sci-if nor speculative fiction before, but it was a lot of fun! And the essay that went along with this assignment (in which I debated whether or not the age of social media has made us incapable of forming and maintaining intimate relationships with others) got a 71, so I feel like I’ve really ended this degree with a bang, with two shiny As to leave with. Happy!

Thanks for reading and I hope you have a wonderful day!

-Andrea

Writer’s Log 4

Writer’s Log 4
21/05-2018

Mission Log
Today’s goal is to finish the Creative Voice-Creative Piece.
I’m in Swanage for the time being, staying with Harvey. He’s in the process of applying for jobs and I’m writing this piece, to hopefully finish my degree with a bang. Most likely my last ever creative piece at uni. So weird!

Andrea Wold Johansen Writing Nook Swanage

10:35 I’ve got this.

10:42 So, I just went through everything I wrote about in my last Writer’s Log, and I may or may not have scrapped it all. Didn’t really resonate anymore, it was too much backstory and not enough actual story. Will keep it and maybe put the backstory in as an appendix though, or just use it as something to reference to as I’m working on it.

11:17 Scrapping what I had might actually have been the most useful thing I’ve done with this story! Ended up creating an entirely new storyline, and now the protagonist has a proper mystery to solve. “Kill your darlings,” and all that; even if you like something you’ve done, if it doesn’t move or add anything to the story, it doesn’t belong in it.

12:00 So, this story has taken a completely new turn, and I’m loving it. It now starts out with a teacher fleeing into England’s last existing forest (in the year of 2187), to hide a 100-year-old forbidden dream journal. This is gonna be a ride.

12:22 This feels more and more like a speculative piece, and when it’s done, submitted and marked, I kind of want to post it here. At the moment I’m trying really hard to not make it into a Technology-is-scary story, though, it’s more a comment on how we as a society overwork ourselves and where we might be headed if we keep it going like this. The technology parts are just a bonus!

13:03 Rocky demanded belly rubs, so I had to take a break. It doesn’t matter if you’re well into writing or if you’re in the middle of a good “flow”, there is always time for belly rubs.
Andrea Wold Johansen, Rocky 004Andrea Wold Johansen, Rocky 001Andrea Wold Johansen, Rocky 002

13:15 Since I started the day by deleting everything and had to start again, I’ve changed the goal of the day to 1500 words. Should be doable.

13:45 I’m really struggling with updating the writer’s log today, but that’s actually not a bad thing. I started the writer’s log series to keep myself accountable for how I spend the time I set off as “writing time” and to keep track of how well I’ve been working, but today I’ve just been busy writing and writing. I’ve been banging my fists against a bit of a creative block lately, so suddenly just having the words flow out feels really good again. Not gonna worry too much about the earlier stated goal for today, but I’m having a really good time writing now.

15:05 Okay, Rocky is demanding pets again and I’m feeling good-tired from having been at it since about 11. Gonna call it a day and just keep working on the plot in my head until I can get some more words down!

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Also, just found this image again from June last year (while looking for some research on my laptop), and I have to admit that I do miss the hair a bit…

Recap of the session:
Did not reach either of my goals (1. to finish and 2. to reach 1500 words), but still, a very productive session! Starting from scratch gave me new drive to keep writing, and I’m a lot happier with what I’ve got now. Now it’s actually an interesting story with a proper action and character-driven plot, instead of just being musings about how the world ended up being as it is.

Mistake of the day: Accidentaly. Acidentaly. Acidentally. ACCIDENTALLY!

Wordcount of the day: 1367

Writing location: My favourite ever writing nook looking out over Swanage bay.

Phone breaks: Not a single one, my phone is very battery-dead at the moment.

Beverage of choice: Started off with just a Yorkshire tea, but have switched over to this green tea one of my flat mates brought from Hong Kong. I’m normally not a fan of green tea, but this is really good!

Mood before writing: I’m not entirely sure where to find my plot after the 1000 word long backstory I wrote last time??”
Mood during writing: Delete everything. Start afresh. See what happens.
Mood after writing: Need some time to really figure out how to use the plot to explain how this world works, and how to use the characters to show how not physically (and genetically) being able to sleep would affect an entire population. This is gonna be fun, though!

Question of the day: When you write, do you start by planning out the plot or the setting?

-Andrea

Journal #5

During my time at uni, I’ve made a lot of blogs for different modules. The point is always to market yourself, to showcase your writing, to find a way to build an online portfolio. Most of them don’t exist anymore, but one I’m feeling a bit nostalgic about (and also the one I liked the most), is called InstantColouring, and it was for a first year “publishing” module. It has long since been abandoned now, but on it I posted a polaroid picture and about 100 words every day of March 2016.

I know I just said it was the blog I liked the most, but it also makes me cringe. I feel like that’s the case with most old writing; you progress, you learn new things, and suddenly what you used to be happy with feels a bit awkwardly worded, a bit unnecessarily flowery. However, this blog did capture snapshots of my everyday, during a month of my first year of uni, and now that that’s coming to an end, I’ve decided to put some of the posts here, in the Journal Series. I won’t edit them or try to make them better, they’ll just be a small reminder (mostly to myself) of how things have or haven’t changed. Sounds like a plan?

 

SPRING-CLEANING
02/29/2016

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“When asked about my favourite season, I wouldn’t say summer, even though I adore the lazy nights of July when the sun never sets and shoes are no longer a necessity. I wouldn’t say autumn either, even though I love the feeling of burying my face in the biggest scarf from this season’s new collection and how the colours change from green to auburn. I also wouldn’t say winter, even though it makes me indescribably happy when snow starts to fall from the clouds like dizzy ballerinas and the Christmas lights are being lit all over the world. No, I will always say spring, because of the soft light that’s reserved for April only, that gently knocks on your window and reminds you that it’s never too late for new beginnings.”

-Andrea

Writer’s Log 3

WRITER’S LOG 3
09/05-2018

Mission Log
A bit of an evening session. The weather here in Winchester (and the rest of England and Europe if we are to believe the weather forecast and my granddad on the phone) is so wonderfully warm and sunny now, which, of course, is nothing to complain about, but it does make it difficult to get any actual work done. The goal for tonight is to reach a 1000 words, though!

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19:26 I’ve got my water, got my tea, got my extension for this assignment, let’s go!

20:06 I actually really like the world I’ve created for this story! It’s a creative piece exploring how the world could end up looking like beyond 2050, so I’m writing a story set in England in 2087, after a huge economic crash has changed the entire structure of the world as we know it. Companies have pumped resources into very unethical experiments and scientists have eventually managed to change human DNA and make it so our bodies don’t actually produce melatonin anymore. This means that in (this hypothetical and highly fictional) 2087 we’ll have a world where no one is even able to sleep; only be awake, to create and be productive 24/7. Terrifying, but interesting to explore.

20:30 There are now 578 words of a prologue written, kind of like an introduction to how the world came to be the way it is. I do believe that’s a bit much and that I’ll have to cut it, but for now it’s a nice part of the process. It’s always nice, when you’re writing new worlds, to be able to create all aspects of it, to really get into how it’s working. It’s one of my favourite parts at least. Now on to introducing some characters! Stories do kind of need those too, yeah?

20:46 Character update:
Harper – leading lady, interested in dreams (which are only a vague, and slightly unbelievable, myth in this world).
Lydia – leading lady’s best friend, not so great at accepting her friend’s obsession with said dreams that no one’s had for 36 years and no one can really prove are true. We already have conflict.

21:08 A bit stuck on character motivation now, but have actually managed to get the prologue and first “scene” down in about an hour and a half. Heading to the fiction section now, for just a little bit of inspiration and a teeny tiny break.

21:39 Okay, that break turned out a little bit longer than planned, but I started writing an “I’m back!” blog post, and got a bit stuck in it. Lots of pictures of the past couple of weeks to make up for the radio silence. Back to Harper and Lydia now, though!

22:04 Making up fictional technology for an England set 69 years into the future is actually a lot of fun! I’m trying to base it on the technology we have today and then looking at where that technology may go, but also going a bit crazy and maybe stretching a lot of things too far. But I feel like if there is one assignment where you’re allowed to go a bit far, it’s the one called “Life Beyond 2050”.

22:30 Remember the article I talked about a couple of months ago, about my favourite places in Winchester? It’s been published now and they sent me a couple of copies! My mum just called to tell that the magazine was sent to my house back home in Norway, which means that I don’t have an actual copy with me right now, but I’m so excited to read it when I go home later in May! It looks so good, and I can’t wait to show you pictures of it, and tell you about the work I’ve been able to do with some of the people at one of the marketing teams here at the uni. So happy!
(Also, if you want to read some of this other, earlier work mentioned one sentence ago, click here!)

23:12 Okay, I’ve got my prologue, introduction scene and first conflict; time to pack it up for tonight. Tomorrow’s another day, and I’ve set it all aside for more writing! I’m trying out a new strategy a lecturer talked about, that is leaving the story before you feel “done” writing, so you know you’ll exactly where to start again tomorrow.
Very excited about that!

Recap of the session: This is a very world building heavy story

Mistake of the day: I always write “in between” in one word, and today was no exception. I’ve learnt to correct myself now, though, which means that not everyone work shopping my pieces have to, and I call that progress.

Word count of the day: Goal reached, 1166 out of 2500

Writing location: Library, top floor, computer 53, wonderfully quiet in here tonight.

Phone breaks: One quite long FaceTime break and a couple of messages, but no actual “hanging out” on social media or anything. Getting there.

Beverage of choice: Strawberries and Cream by Dorset Tea (I’m going to sneakily link you to their webpage because this tea is seriously my favourite tea ever and I stock up on it every chance I get).

Mood before writing: “I really like my idea and the world I’ve created for this assignment but I’m not entirely sure where I want the plot to go.”
Mood during writing: What kind of technology can I make for this world, and what kind of phones will we have in 2087? Still not entirely sure about the plot further down the line.
Mood after writing: I’m really enjoying this piece! Need to rework the plot and shorten down the prologue a bit, but having a good time with it so far!

Question of the day: How do you think our technology will develop in 2087?

Also, have a picture of some really good crepes we treated ourselves to today (I went a bit overboard with mine, but Bex had some chocolate covered strawberries on the side with hers too, so it’s okay).

Andrea Wold Johansen Crepes

-Andrea

The last couple of weeks…

… in pictures.

 

This blog’s been very quiet for the past few weeks, and I just wanted to let you know why. I made this website back in February, as part of a uni module. The assignment was to create a platform for self promotion on the internet, and while the markers were marking it, I couldn’t update or post anything on here. But it’s all done now, and I got an A on it! 76 points, who’d’ve thought! Very happy and proud of that.

However, the last few months have been great, as you can see from the pictures. Ups and downs, of course, but I’ve made some food, been on some walks, seen lots of lovely flowers (and found lilacs on campus, which are my favourite flowers so that made me very happy) and I also went home for a week, completely unplanned but very much needed. I also got a B on my dissertation(68 points). You know, just throwing that out there, as I’m really proud of that one too.

So it’s been a bit quiet here, but I’m already working on lots of new posts! Stay tuned for more writing, another writer’s log, updates about the general living situation (getting dangerously close to the end of uni now, there are some decisions to be made and some coincidences to hope for) and more pictures.

Thanks for sticking around!

-Andrea

“Mina”

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Yesterday, alumni and current students of the UoW’s Creative Writing programme gathered to celebrate the programme’s 10 year anniversary as an independent single-honours degree. It was a wonderful night, with speeches, music, quizzes about the lecturers, a “memory fireplace” (a fancy fireplace we stuck memories written down on post-it notes on) and lots and lots of readings. Stick about 50 writers together in a room, and you won’t believe how many great, weird, thought-provoking and heartbreaking pieces you can find. There was everything from poetry to short stories to song lyrics, and the red thread that wove itself through the night was just to celebrate this course and how much it gives its students, how much it shapes us as people. A feel-good night with wine and beautiful dresses, chill formal, with lots of applause and a warm atmosphere.

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At the same time, we also ” celebrated” the launch of the 2018 edition of Vortex. Vortex is the uni’s literary magazine, open to submissions from everyone (not just students). This year’s edition is a bit special, however, as it is the first issue that has been created by students, with third-year Creative and Professional Writing students forming the editorial board, marketing- and design team. I’ve wanted to submit work to Vortex since receiving a copy in the “welcome to uni”-pack in first-year, but it wasn’t until the end of second-year I managed to gather up the courage to actually send anything in. Now I’m so glad I did. The 2018 edition is an absolutely beautiful magazine, illustrated by Kat Beatson, and filled to the brim with great poems and short stories. It doesn’t have a specific theme, but to quote someone from the launch yesterday, it’s got a quiet vulnerability to it, at the same time as it’s fierce and weird. If you’re in Winchester, it’s definitely something to check out.

Andrea Wold Johansen, Vortex 1Andrea Wold Johansen, Vortex 3Andrea Wold Johansen, Vortex 2

I was also fortunate enough to be able to read the piece I submitted to the magazine at the launch, and if you want to read it, you can find it here!
It’s a piece I wrote in second-year, based on research done on children’s fiction as a platform to talk to children about difficult subjects. It’s also what started my dissertation, and it was weird to revisit and read it, now that it’s almost a year old.
I do like it and am quite proud of it, though.

Screen Shot 2018-04-13 at 16.19.04The proper pictures in this post are by Ben Coleman, you can find his work here.

And if you want to listen to it while reading, here’s a video!

(And sorry for all the links here, but if you wanna check out some of the short stories I’ve been lucky enough to get published or any poetry performances I’ve been a part of, then just click here or go to the “Pieces and Performances” page in the header bar!)

-Andrea