By Rebecca Gernon
Every sentence we writers create is like a baby, a newborn puppy, or tender plant. We don’t want anyone to say it is ugly, squash it, or worse yet CUT it from our manuscript. But if the truth be told, almost any manuscript,(and I think this applies to some books I have read) would be vastly improved by removing 20% of the words. This does not mean a word here or there, it means chopping out entire scenes, paragraphs, or curbing your desire to have characters repeat themselves.
I am currently faced with chopping my humorous, coming-of-age novel down to size. I knew that it was too long based on industry standards, but I figured until a savvy agent or publisher read it, I would state in my query letter that the book was 118,000 words, when I knew 85,000 words is pushing it for a novel. So, after 70 rejections or no responses, I have decided that perhaps I should chop my novel down to size before sending any more queries. Not a happy task.
So far 10,000 words have been ripped from my novel, but they have not been tossed. They are in another file for future use. Remember, if you are writing a series, trilogy, or several books with the same characters, the scenes you cut might work very well in another book.
I also changed the title of my novel from The Whole Plot’s Crazy to The Strength of Secrets. The book is about a 14 year old girl who discovers her grandmother had another sister, one who has not been mentioned for more than 40 years. This secret, along with other family secrets has caused a rift, one that my protagonist desires to solve. My original title was based on the idea that my protagonist thought everyone in her family cemetery plot was crazy when she heard family stories about dead aunts and uncles, but she would not have had that information until the end of the book, so I think The Strength of Secrets might better fit the book.
I struggle with titles for characters, chapters, and books. A book title should entice the reader, give a clue to the story, but not give it away. Knowing as little as you do about my book, do you like my new title? Do you have a difficult time naming your characters and choosing a catchy title that agents and publishers will fall in love with?