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HeyBooBoo
05-04-2006, 07:55 PM
Hello everyone, I'm new here and I have a few questions. I just finished writting my first novel and I've done a basic revision (checking run-on sentances, making sure my characters didn't grow a third arm in chapter 5, and so on). Now I'm lost on all the amateur mistakes I know I've made.

~I read on the Holly Lisle site that a novel should be between 80,000 and 120,000 words, but on this site I've seen that 120,000 is too much. Mine is 120,400 according to the Word word count, how much should I trim? Also when I query an agent should should I include the exact word count (such as 120,483) or just round to the nearest number ending in 00?

~I'm not sure of the exact definition of a line break for scene changes. So far when I end a scene I just start a new paragraph. Example:

Jimmy hoped the cat would respond to the treatment.
The next morning Jimmy woke to the sound of bells, only to realize that Fluffy was not there.

Should I change it to this:
Jimmy hoped the cat would respond to the treatment.

The next morning Jimmy woke to the sound of bells, only to realize that Fluffy was not there.

And if the time changes, but not the scene, how should I do that? Such as:

After talking with his supervisior Jimmy went to check on his patients.
Jimmy's day went by fairly quickly and fifteen minutes before his shift ended her stopped by the soda machine to speak with Carla.

Should I change it to:

After talking with his supervisior Jimmy went to check on his patients.

Jimmy's day went by fairly quickly and fifteen minutes before his shift ended her stopped by the soda machine to speak with Carla.

Also, should I have paragraph breaks in extremely long pieces of dialogue? I have a Presidental debate in my book and one side of the debate is a page and a half long of one character speaking, which I broke into three seperate paragraphs. Should I make it just one long paragraph, or keep the three paragraphs?

~I think my chapters might be too long. My book is 120,400 words and I only have 18 chapters. How long should the longest be and how short should the shortest be? I've also done all my chapters starting the first line at the top left, then hit enter once and started writting the chapter on the second line. I've read that's the wrong way to do it, how can I center the chapter title on the page without accidently centering the whole book?

Any answers would be greatly appreciated! My name is Sonia, I'm a stay-at-home mom in Michigan, and I picked the screen name Bette Davis because I have a weakness for black and white films. This looks like a great site and I look forward to posting with all of you! :)

DeadlyAccurate
05-04-2006, 08:18 PM
I'll answer your first question. Don't use Word's word count. It's not the way publisher's compute it. See this thread for examples on how to do manuscript word count: http://absolutewrite.com/forums/showthread.php?t=32561

For example, my book by Word's count is 71,000 words. But it's really 87,000 words. I suspect your book is going to be closer to 150K words.

I'm not going to tell you that no publisher would be interested in a first-time novelist's 150K book, but they are difficult to sell, and I *have* seen agents say not to even bother querying them with novels over a certain page count. A 600-page novel sells for almost the same as a 300-page novel in bookstores, but costs more to print and takes up twice as much room.

Julie Worth
05-04-2006, 08:29 PM
First, go though your book and replace every instance of writting with writing.

Second, change the style of your chapter headings to heading1. Modify that style to automatically center and drop down a third of the page, on a new page.

Third, put your ms in standard format and multiply the pages by 250. Thatís your real word count. (If itís fantasy or SF, 120k might be all right. Other genres, forget it.)

Fourth, skip a line for change of POV or for any other reason that strikes your fancy (generally a location or time change, but not if you have sufficient transition). Put a centered # on that skipped line to indicate that it is skipped.

And finally, post your opening scene in the Share Your Work area of the appropriate genre, and let people have at it.

JanDarby
05-04-2006, 08:46 PM
As to word count, it depends on the genre and subgenre, so we'd need more information to give a good answer. Romance, for instance, has fairly specific word count requirements depending on the publisher you're submitting to and even the line within the publisher. Traditional mysteries, from what I've heard, are getting shorter generally, more in the 80K range. SF/F is about the only genre where longer is acceptable. For instance -- Susannah Clarke's book last year, which was somewhere in a SF/F-literary hybrid genre.

If you let us know youre genre, we could perhaps head you in the right direction. Alternatively, pull a few random books (prerably by authors you admire and aspire to having a similar career to, and that are in your genre) from the shelves of a bookstore, and see what their page count is and do a quick count of the words on a few pages, average them and multiply it times the total number of pages.

As to scene breaks, yes, you want an extra line between the end of one scene and the beginning of the next one. Some people add a series of 3 or 4 asterisks or pound signs in another line between the scenes:

scene 1 ends

*** [but centered]

scene 2 begins.

The example you give with a transition of time is probably a scene break. (Technically, a scene requires unity of person, place and time, so whenever one of those changes, you're in a new scene.) And, as an aside, I'm not sure you need the line about checking on the patients, since it's covered in the "busy day," and if you're looking to cut stuff, that would be one you could cut. Then it would probably be more obvious that there needs to be a scene break.

As to the dialogue, I'd recommend breaking it up into smaller chunks, in the paragraphs the speech would have had when it was written. Sort of like what we all (or am I showing my age?) learned to do in high school, with those inverted triangles -- start the paragraph with the general idea and then work down to the specific, next paragraph another broad statement down the specific, or vice versa. But the bottom line is that the speech would have been broken into paragraphs somehow.

OTOH, I'm not sure how integral this speech is to the book (and, again, no idea of the genre), but another option that might pick up the pacing (and cut some lines) would be to write the scene in the POV of someone listening to the debate, so you could just quote the really significant handful of sentences, and then have the listener react to them with skepticism or belief or whatever and be doing something else, like looking for the bad guy. (Think of "The Fugitive," where, IIRC, toward the end, Harrison Ford is looking for the bad guy, and there's a fancy dinner going on, and the bad guy is up at the head table, getting introduced, so we hear the relevant snippets of the introduction, but the POV character -- Ford -- is trying to get to the bad guy.)

I don't know if you saw the presidential-debate episode of West Wing, but I tuned in, just b/c I was curious how the two actors would handle a live episode like that, where they were under a lot of pressure to get their lines right. And the episode didn't work for me, at all, b/c all I was doing the entire hour was noticing their acting skills (which were impressive, I thought), b/c I was bored by the content of what the characters were doing/saying. Anyway, just mentioning that as a caveat for readers who might well skip over the entire debate you write, unless you've got it extremely condensed, and have true conflict (these days, does a political debate matter to anyone other than the candidate?) in the scene, with tension that's escalating. Which was missing from the West Wing debate.

JD

HeyBooBoo
05-04-2006, 09:31 PM
Thank you for the replies! I'm not completely certain the genre of book I'm writing (<--thanks Julie!). I've looked up the definitions and it could qualify as both literary fiction and mainstream fiction. It's a political satire, is that a genre?

Typed up (without adding my scene breaks yet) it's 386 pages. Once I add breaks it will be longer, but if I count it as 250 words per page it will probably end up being around 100,000 words. I will definately need to trim up some scenes as well.

The debate scene only contains one response from each candidate, which is related to the subject I'm writing about. The rest of the debate is mentioned by the characters as being something they don't care about.

The line breaks were driving me bonkers, thanks again for all the help!

Julie Worth
05-04-2006, 09:50 PM
Thank you for the replies! I'm not completely certain the genre of book I'm writing (<--thanks Julie!). I've looked up the definitions and it could qualify as both literary fiction and mainstream fiction. It's a political satire, is that a genre?

Typed up (without adding my scene breaks yet) it's 386 pages. Once I add breaks it will be longer, but if I count it as 250 words per page it will probably end up being around 100,000 words. I will definately need to trim up some scenes as well.

The debate scene only contains one response from each candidate, which is related to the subject I'm writing about. The rest of the debate is mentioned by the characters as being something they don't care about.

The line breaks were driving me bonkers, thanks again for all the help!

386 pages and the computer count is 120k? I think that's unlikely. You can only use the 250/page number if you have it in standard format: Courier New 12pt, 25 lines/page, 1 inch margins.

HeyBooBoo
05-04-2006, 10:01 PM
I just realized a terrible mistake, I was writing in Times New Roman. I just changed it to Courier and it's now 526 pages long without scene breaks. I offically want to cry now! I thought I could trim 50 pages if needed, but 150! I don't know what to do!

I also have 24 lines a page, how do I make it 25?

Julie Worth
05-04-2006, 10:07 PM
There are several ways. One is to change the spacing to a 1.9 multiple. (Best to do this in the style, but I'll bet you don't know what I'm talking about. If not, see here (http://www.absolutewrite.com/forums/showthread.php?t=13457).)

kc361
05-04-2006, 10:16 PM
Hi there,
Do you have Word? If so, go to Format --> Paragraph, and under Line Spacing, pick "Exactly" from the drop down menu. Then set it to 25 pt in the "At" window.

James D. Macdonald
05-04-2006, 10:19 PM
If you're using MS Word, go into it and disable every single option it has. Better still, delete Word from your system and get something useful.

Next -- I can't tell from your examples what to do in your particular case. Eliminate all the unnecessary words. If every word that's left is necessary -- then that's your book.

You don't skip lines between paragraphs. Each new paragraph starts with an indent.

You break things into paragraphs ... if they are separate paragraphs. If they aren't, you don't.

There is no magic "right length" for a chapter. Divide your book in a way that makes sense to you.

Julie Worth
05-04-2006, 10:26 PM
If you're using MS Word, go into it and disable every single option it has. Better still, delete Word from your system and get something useful.


Listen to James and you'll be using a manual typewriter.

Bartholomew
05-04-2006, 10:30 PM
Listen to James and you'll be using a manual typewriter

Manual typewriter WITH a really good whiteout tool.

James D. Macdonald
05-04-2006, 10:40 PM
Manual typewriter WITH a really good whiteout tool.

Manual typewriter with a really good whiteout tool is all that any novelist needs.

Listen to Julie and you'll have all kinds of slop and claptrap getting between you and the words, and making it impossible for anyone else to read your files.

HeyBooBoo
05-04-2006, 10:42 PM
I just went into paragraph and set the lines for exactly 25 pts and the last line on the page is still at 24 pts. Should I set it for 26 pts?

jchines
05-04-2006, 10:45 PM
...making it impossible for anyone else to read your files.

Not impossible, necessarily.

But for the DAW anthology I worked on, one of the authors I invited e-mailed me a story which had ... let's call them formatting issues. It took me about 20 minutes to eliminate excess code and such, to get it into a standard format that I could read.

This was someone I had invited, who had talked to me about being computer illiterate and having trouble getting things formatted properly in this program, so in this case I was willing to do the work.

But here's the thing: that manuscript looked perfect on his PC. It was a mess on mine. The fewer special features you use, the less risk of a formatting mess on the receiver's side of things.

Aconite
05-04-2006, 10:46 PM
I just went into paragraph and set the lines for exactly 25 pts and the last line on the page is still at 24 pts. Should I set it for 26 pts?More likely, you need to try setting your line spacing at 1.95 instead of 2.

kc361
05-04-2006, 10:50 PM
Have you disabled orphans & widows? It might be automatically slinging one of your lines onto the next page, depending upon where you are in the paragraph.

Charlotte Dillon has an excellent summary of how to make proper formatting changes for MS in word. Hope it helps!

http://www.charlottedillon.com/ManuscriptPreparation.html

Bartholomew
05-04-2006, 10:50 PM
Macdonald[/left]]Manual typewriter with a really good whiteout tool is all that any novelist needs.

Listen to Julie and you'll have all kinds of slop and claptrap getting between you and the words, and making it impossible for anyone else to read your files.

Can't argue with you, but I find the ease of a good electronic dictionary and thesaurus far more efficient than their paper counterparts. Most word-smiths will end up finding a comfortable place between the bare minimum and the garnish.

A good solution to formatting issues is to keep a plain text version saved as your backup.

Aconite
05-04-2006, 10:55 PM
Manual typewriter with a really good whiteout tool is all that any novelist needs.

Listen to Julie and you'll have all kinds of slop and claptrap getting between you and the words, and making it impossible for anyone else to read your files.Not just novelist, either. My nonfiction magazine editor complains bitterly about the junk she has to strip out of files when authors ignore her guidelines for plain text.

Sassenach
05-04-2006, 11:01 PM
Not just novelist, either. My nonfiction magazine editor complains bitterly about the junk she has to strip out of files when authors ignore her guidelines for plain text.


She has more patience than me. I'd send it back to them with a request to follow instructions.

Aconite
05-04-2006, 11:08 PM
She has more patience than me. I'd send it back to them with a request to follow instructions.They tend to be the same authors who send the files at 4:45 of deadline day and can't be reached immediately, from what I understand.* Otherwise, I suspect that's exactly what she'd do.

*They tend not to get repeat assignments, obviously. You have to be exceptionally brilliant to make it worth an editor's extra effort, and most people aren't exceptionally brilliant.

HeyBooBoo
05-04-2006, 11:40 PM
I finally got everything together, 25 pts and all! I need to trim this book down, but I'm already seeing more than one pointless scene I can get rid of. Thank you so much for all of your advice!

Sharon Mock
05-05-2006, 03:07 AM
With Harlequin moving to computerized word counts, and with several agents (including Miss Snark) saying they've never heard of the 250/page method, I'd use the word processor's count unless the agent/publisher prefers another method.

Keep in mind that as long as the formatting's readable and consistent, the fine details will rarely make a difference. Still, formatting's the one aspect of a manuscript that we have fine control over, so don't feel bad about wanting to get it perfect. (But it's not necessary.)

Julie Worth
05-05-2006, 06:50 AM
With Harlequin moving to computerized word counts, and with several agents (including Miss Snark) saying they've never heard of the 250/page method, I'd use the word processor's count unless the agent/publisher prefers another method.



Never heard of it? Makes one wonder about Miss Snark.

Sharon Mock
05-05-2006, 12:15 PM
The change in Harlequin's policies is discussed here (http://absolutewrite.com/forums/showthread.php?t=23711). (You'll want to scroll down to message 20.)

Miss Snark addresses the issue here (http://misssnark.blogspot.com/2006/02/very-last-word-about-word-count.html). (I misremembered -- she's heard of it, but thinks it's unnecessary.)

I've heard too much conflicting advice. I don't think the case for 250/page is nearly as straightforward as it was even a year ago. Standards change, and I suspect this one is right in the middle of doing so.

I'd still format for 250/page, and I'd still use that word count where I know it's preferred.

Jamesaritchie
05-05-2006, 05:03 PM
The change in Harlequin's policies is discussed here (http://absolutewrite.com/forums/showthread.php?t=23711). (You'll want to scroll down to message 20.)

Miss Snark addresses the issue here (http://misssnark.blogspot.com/2006/02/very-last-word-about-word-count.html). (I misremembered -- she's heard of it, but thinks it's unnecessary.)

I've heard too much conflicting advice. I don't think the case for 250/page is nearly as straightforward as it was even a year ago. Standards change, and I suspect this one is right in the middle of doing so.

I'd still format for 250/page, and I'd still use that word count where I know it's preferred.

The thing to remember is that the 250 count isn't for the agent, and isn't for the editor. It never was. It's for the publisher and the writer. Agents never have known much about it, and many of today's editors know just as little.

But paper is more expensive than ever, and publishers are sincere about the bottom line. Using the 250 method can svae new writers some nasty surprises down the line when it's time to determine the final page count for the novel. Few things are more annoying, and tougher, then being asked to cut ten or fifteen or twenty thousand words at the last minute, but it happens often. The 250 method can prevent this from happening, even if the editor has never heard of it.

Liam Jackson
05-05-2006, 09:41 PM
The thing to remember is that the 250 count isn't for the agent, and isn't for the editor. It never was. It's for the publisher and the writer. Agents never have known much about it, and many of today's editors know just as little.

But paper is more expensive than ever, and publishers are sincere about the bottom line. Using the 250 method can svae new writers some nasty surprises down the line when it's time to determine the final page count for the novel. Few things are more annoying, and tougher, then being asked to cut ten or fifteen or twenty thousand words at the last minute, but it happens often. The 250 method can prevent this from happening, even if the editor has never heard of it.

This can happen in reverse, too, though not nearly as often. After finishing my first book, I had a word count, my agent (looking at the same mss.) had another word count, and my editor had a slightly different word count. In the end, none of us were right. It took the copy editor to give us a dead-on accurate count, after which my content editor says, "Hey, think you can whip out another 20-25K words before this goes to the typesetter?
:Jaw: