In Search of Word Count

My characters love to talk.

Okay, maybe they don’t, but I’ve had it drilled into my skull that you have to show and not tell. No one wants to read exposition. And that’s mostly true. So if you start your story by jumping right in, how do you give backstory to help explain why your characters are making the choices they are? How do you build the world, especially a fantasy world? The dialogue can’t be stilted either. You can’t hide exposition in, “Bill, as you know . . .” Well, I suppose you can, but why even bother with the cover of dialogue?

But if two characters have never met before and are thrown together in an intense situation? This might be an opportunity to let them talk to each other and see if some of those details come out.

I worked very hard to make the dialogue flow like real conversations. That was one thing I received a head nod on from those that have helped me with the story. People sounded like people. The conversations felt like you were eavesdropping.

However, as I was working on adding details so the characters aren’t hanging out in sensory deprivation chambers, I realized I had a critical scene where the two protagonists really talk to each and open up to each other and . . . it’s too long. The timing is inappropriate given the conflict in the story.

So, what was supposed to be an easier rewrite of adding some texture to the manuscript just took a turn. I need to cut the scene in half, at least. Then, I need to figure out which of the cut pieces needs to get shuffled elsewhere and which I need to let go. I had sort of known this in the back of my head as I’d been editing it before, but I glossed over it and lied to myself that it wasn’t that long.  Not willing to lie to myself as I prep this to start querying it.

My issue is compounded by the fact that I was trying to get to 80,000 words on this manuscript. I thought I was at 76,000 to start with, but I couldn’t find that file. No idea where the 76,000 came from (wishful thinking?), but the largest file I found was 71,000. Reading through it, I’m pretty sure that is the latest version. Even with all of the sensory description I’ve added, I am still not to  76k. Cutting this dialogue scene eats another few thousand.

But, it’s the right thing to do. So I’m doing it.

I’m approximately 30% of the way through the story, so there is the possibility I will find enough blank rooms and hurried transitions that need fixing to get me to 80k.

If not, I’ll have to take a hard look at the work and decide if the story needs something else, and not just for word count.

I did say that my work starts with a skeleton and I build from there.