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

“In the Soles of Their Shoes”

I know I’ve mentioned it before, but I’m still working on coming to terms with the fact that I’ve finished my BA. Part of this process, I’ve figured, is going back and looking at pieces I wrote in first and second year. Most writers hate looking back at earlier pieces, and I’m definitely no exception. All the sentences you’d cut, all the careless spelling mistakes, so much showing and not enough telling. However, it is interesting to see how far you’ve come, and it feels good to know that all the errors you find in your old work are things you know how to correct now; areas in which you’ve grown as a writer.

This short story (hidden under the Continue Reading bar) was one of the first short stories I ever wrote in a lecture, in a module called Creative Voice I. The task was to find an idea by looking at pictures, then head to the library to quickly research said idea and like this, come up with a story. I got a picture of Audrey Hepburn, the classic Breakfast at Tiffany’s shot, and started looking at her past and her life during the war; how she and some other girls put on secret ballet rehearsals and shows unbeknownst to the German soldiers. It got the ball rolling for a story about children helping out the resistance during the second world war, and resulted in a 700 word story. Also, today I’ve edited it slightly and submitted this story to The Master’s Review‘s Flash Fiction competition.

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On the topic of growing as a writer, though, if I were to write this story now I would show more of the surroundings to properly set the time and place more clearly, and also make the character’s intentions and feelings more clear. I would also work more with the characters, as the reader doesn’t really get a clear feeling about how old the girls are or why they’re doing what they’re doing. Also, the change in mood from the girls skipping down the street to one of them suddenly sneaking into the abandoned shop feels very sudden. Other than that, I do like it.

Click the Continue Reading Button to read the piece, or click here to see some of my other pieces!

-Andrea

“In the soles of their shoes”

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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.
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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

17th of May

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Not really a writing or book related post, but yesterday was the 17th of May, Norway’s Constitution Day. I celebrated the day in London, my first time ever not celebrating it at home with my family, and it felt weird not being enveloped in old traditions and places that stay the same. It turned out to be such a great day, though, Cathy came along, and it was so much fun being able to “show” off the traditions I’ve grown up with, if on a smaller scale. Beautiful bunads, marching band songs, flower crowns and Norwegian flags as far as the eye could see.

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There was a parade, speeches, lots of music, waffles, ice cream and food. All the things you need to really make the 17th of May the day it is.

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There is something I really like about the fact that on one day every year, the entire population of Norway, both at home and abroad, put on their nicest clothes and meet their family, only to eat ice cream and play games all day.

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The focus of the day and what many of the speeches were about, was belonging. How we as people always belong somewhere, how hopefully everyone feel at home in a group, be it their nationality, their faith, a community. What really hit me, though, was when the Minister of Culture said that “Belonging somewhere doesn’t mean that that has to be the only place you ever feel at home; we can all belong in multiple societies, we can all belong in different home countries.” Right now, as I’m kind of in the process of coming to terms with leaving England after these three years, that felt oddly comforting. I keep saying I’m leaving England behind, but I’m not really, am I. England’s still gonna be here, the friends I made along the way will still be here, it will just have to be the sowing grounds for new memories, new experiences, new challenges and victories.
Aha, didn’t think a day all about eating ice cream could get so deep, did you!

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Celebrating with Cathy was also so much fun; she waved her new Norwegian flag higher than anyone, and marched in the parade with newfound vigour. I showed her Norwegian waffles (Sjømannskirkens Vafler) and we had Solo, the Norwegian equivalent of Fanta. I’m well aware of my Solo-bias, but it’s actually a lot better than Fanta, haha.
Then we had some 17th of May Fish and Chips, which is one hundred percent not traditional 17th of May Food, but they put a little Norwegian flag on it and we ate while listening to happy people chatter, watching bunads walk past, and seeing all the kids play games; sack races, potato racing and quoits.

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A day I felt a bit anxious about going into, because of the weight of the traditions I’m used to and not being able to be a part of them, turned into an absolute fairytale and a memory I’ll take with me forever.

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(Have a Cathy marching towards the Winchester-bound train, post ice cream and festivities)

Gratulerer med gårsdagen, alle sammen, and Happy Birthday, Norway.

-Andrea

“Are we all Creative Writers?” or The first time I ever tried my hands on teaching

There is an age-old saying that goes “those who can’t, teach”. However, whenever my mum (brilliant nurse-gone-teacher) encounters this saying she’ll just say “you’ve got to know something really well to be able to teach it”. I like that better.

The University of Winchester hosts these Taster Session Days, as part of an initiative called Widening Participation. The goal is to make attending university feel more accessible for currently under-represented student groups and to break down barriers future students might have about going into Higher education. On these days, the uni is open for Year 8 pupils from schools in the wider area, and they all get a taste of life at the uni, with campus tours and taster sessions where they get to try out different courses.

I’ve been lucky enough to be part of two of three days of Creative Writing sessions, and this has been both such a challenge and so much fun. Years ago I lead two children’s theatre courses and I’ve done five years of volunteering with leading youth groups, but I’ve never actually taught something like Creative Writing, and it feels new and exciting to be in a position where you can call yourself a “tutor”.

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-Calm before the storm; waiting for the students to appear. Beth (in the picture) also held a really great session about modernist poetry!

I had so much fun, though! My session was called “Are You Already a Creative Writer?” and I wanted to challenge the Year 8s (12/13-year olds) to think about all the different kinds of writing they’re doing in their everyday lives. A lot of the students participating thought about Creative Writing as something fancy and difficult to do, but I wanted them to think of themselves as writers because, in a way, we all already are. We also talked a lot about how you might benefit from a university degree, and they challenged me back, with asking about why they should get a Creative Writing degree, if they were already creative writers?*

What made the session interesting from the start, was that the students in the groups all had very different experiences with writing. Some of them had already written lots of stories (one girl even showed me a digital copy of her 60k first draft of a novel!), and some of them didn’t think they could write at all. Some of them didn’t like it and some didn’t even want to try. To get them started, though, I had them all choose a picture of a person. I found the pictures on the Humans of New York website, and made sure to tell the kids where they were from, and that they were already telling a story. “Now, however,” I said, “we’re going to give them new stories.”

 

 

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-To have the students move around a bit, I put all the pictures on the sofas in the back of the classroom, so they had up get up from their seats and pick them up.

 

The first writing exercise I gave them, was to write about the person in the picture like they were introducing them as the main character of a novel. I gave them some questions to prompt their imaginations a bit, and then walked around and chatted with them about their ideas as they were writing. So many good stories came out of this! From intergalactic romances between alien princesses and human London-buskers to Einstein’s time-travelling, evil twin brother. Some of the students worked together and linked their characters, some worked on their own, some didn’t really want to work at all. The great thing, however, was that even the students who didn’t want to take the class seriously ended up doing exactly what I wanted them to do. Being 13 is a weird age, and when someone who doesn’t technically look like an adult (read: me) tells them to do something, it’s quite natural that some of them didn’t want to. Still, this meant that they were trying to create the craziest, furthest-out-there stories, to show me that they didn’t care, but this was how some of the most fun stories came to be, and they were definitely being creative with their pictures and characters.

After they wrote their character introductions, we agreed that novels, short stories and poetry are the things most people think about when they hear creative writing. However, we also talked about all the other types of writing there are, and how we don’t even think about many of them as creative at all. To make the students try this out, I asked them to write about their character in a different way. A blog post written from their point of view, an article about something they’d done, a diary entry, or, if they were particularly brave (which a lot of them were), some song lyrics.

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-A slide from the PowerPoint talking about different types of creative writing

Then, after two writing exercises, a couple of discussions, lots of talking and an actual workshop, we linked all the things we’d done to what the Creative Writing Course is about. Creative problem solving; I gave them a problem, the picture, and they presented me with a solution, the story. They wrote to prompts and followed guidelines like “professional writers” have to do, and we spent about an hour being creative together.

These days doing teaching has been fun, challenging and very educational, hopefully also for the students, but more than anything, for me. Planning lessons and talking about how to engage a room full of students is something very different from actually doing it, but I’m so glad I challenged myself to do this, to try. To quote Lucie Fink, “let’s make trying the new doing.” And the same can absolutely be said for a lot of the Year 8s that day, they tried something they’d never done before, and their attempts became fantastic stories and interesting characters. A couple of very successful writing sessions, this is definitely something I would love to do again.

-Andrea
*The answer to “why do a degree in Creative Writing”, btw, is that anyone can sit on their own and write, but a CW degree betters your time management skills, your creative thinking and problem solving, gives you the focus and the discipline of a degree but in a creative atmosphere, and also teaches you the professional sides of the business, like writing to word counts and briefs. It’s also a very good time. Challenging, but great.
If you want any more reasons to do a creative writing degree, I’ve actually written a blog post about that too, on the UoW’s student blog! Check it out here if you think a CW degree might be something for you, or if you’re just curious!