December 7th, 2010 by Sasha White
Word Counts and Words That Count.

Memorable scenes offer something beyond words to the reader. They offer content.

As an author I tend to always be short on my wordcounts. My editors have been known to send my manuscripts back and say, “It’s too short. Make it longer.” I struggle with this mightily. Why? Because I absolutely HATE ‘filler words’. I also hate adding scenes to a story simply to hit a specific word count. Yes, I write erotic, and I hate gratuitous sex scenes. It frustrates me to end when a critique partner or editor tells me to add another sex scene to meet my word count. If I wrote thrillers I wouldn’t add another murder scene just to add pages, so why should I add more sex to do so?

Sure readers read erotic fiction because they like hot sex scenes, but any reader will tell you that the sex scenes mean nothing if there is no story, no connection to the characters. The same goes for any scene, in any book, in any genre. Each and every scene has to offer something for the reader or they are just words on a page.

As a reader I hate it when I find myself skimming a book. To me that means that scene offers nothing of value to the story, and it shouldn’t be there. As a writer I strive to make sure there are no scenes in my stories that readers want to skim. To me thats what make a fast paced, engrossing read. It’s like when you go to a movie and you really have to pee, but you don’t want to leave togo to the washroom because you know if you do you’re going to miss something important.

I want my books to be that way. Ok, so you can put the book down and go to the washroom, or work or whatever, and not miss anything, but thats because when you start reading you pick up where you left off. The point is that you don’t skim anything because every scene has meaning, and your so engrossed in the story that your eyes are glued to every page.

Those scenes that no one will skim over are what I call Dynamic Scenes.

So how do you write them? Each scene has to offer something to the reader. Think character development, story arc, and plot holes. Think action or reaction.

I find that the action or reaction way of thinking is a very simple way to view things, and I like simple. Figuring that every scene in my books needs to feature either action, or reaction to something thats happened in the story makes it very easy to decide if the scene should be there or not. As a non-plotter it works great to think that way. I write a scene with action, then write the reaction to it. Simple.

Please understand that ‘action’ doesn’t always mean fighting a bad guy or jumping off a cliff. Action is basically when something is happening or being done. Action is something that moves the story forward in some way. Action is change. Something is different at the end of the scene than it was at the beginning.

By that definition, yes if you have your character showering, shaving and ….in a scene then yes there is action there, but it is it really anything that reader needs to know? So for my purposes, action is defined as something important happening. Not something big, but something important or integral to the story. Understand the difference? (and yes, character development is integral to the story)

However, what if your story has multiple storylines and POV’s? It doesn’t matter. It’s the same thing. Every scene should have either an action, or a reaction at it’s core. This keeps the story moving, and helps you avoid the dreaded sagging middle.

Okay, let’s get specific.
Look at a scene from your WIP.
Is it an action scene? Is it a reaction scene? If it isn’t either of those, how would you categorize it? Can you categorize it? If you’re looking at your scene, and thinking, “Shit, this isn’t really action, and it’s not really reaction…” then chances are your scene is not a dynamic one. No worries. You’re going to make it a dynamic one.

If it’s not an action or reaction scene you need to think about where in the story this particular scene sits. Look at the scene before it and the scene after it. What are they? is one an action, and the other a reaction? Is your scene really needed? If it’s not needed, cut it out and paste it into a separate file. ( I always have a file called “WIP cuts” where I paste anything I think doesn’t quite fit, but I’m not quite ready to delete. You never know you might find a place for it later-with some tweaking) If it’s still needed but it’s not an action or reaction, then think about how to make it one. Don’t be afraid to cut words, or to add another layer that will make the scene an action or reaction. Personally, I’m more afraid of leaving in words that aren’t needed, and boring my readers. 😉

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One comment to “Word Counts and Words That Count.”

  1. Andrew Mckay
     · December 7th, 2010 at 5:05 pm · Link

    Well said, i will try to remember that coming back to do editting. It seems like if i don’t have action or reaction, i can’t continue to write. I don’t know if that happens to anybody else but it does for me.

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