#ContactForm1 { display: none ! important; }

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Wednesday Workout: Working out the Fluff!

Before We Begin:

Open up a current WIP that's still in the early drafts or an older short story or rough draft. You'll need it to compare writing samples for today's workout.

Let's Get Started:

At the moment I am a beta-reader for three different novels, all while being stuck in the middle of my own editing trench warfare for Under a Dark Star. This means that I'm not only reading four novels at the same time, I'm also comparing four different writing styles and using what I learn from editing for friends for my own WIP.

Our workout today comes from the editing trenches (aka The Pit of Despair). The goal here is to identify what kind of Fluff-writer you are and find some ways to help you edit the Fluff. Everything else that needs editing in your draft will have to wait for a later date.

Too Much Fluff:

The first example of Fluff-writing is from Writer1. W1 has a beautiful style, I love reading W1's work, but I've found I spend most of my editing time here cutting things.

There are lines I read where it seems the author stepped away from the book and came back to editing without reading what they'd done before. W1 tends to repeat phrases and ideas at an alarming rate. And the word count on this manuscript shows this tendency.

Remember, the average debut novel for the adult genres is 75,000-95,000 words. There is a 5,000 word stretch to either side, but the average novel falls into that range. If you find your first manuscript has 120,000 words (like my first novel did) you need to go back and cut.

My guess is that W1 not only has a busy schedule, but W1 also is a Fluffy First Draft writer. When W1 sits down with a new work they throw everything at the page, and forget to peel off all the extra bits before letting their work get out.

If you are a FFD writer you need to spend one round of edits on every chapter looking to cut word count. Look for redundant phrases, repetitions, and dialog tags that can be lost. Not everything needs to be "He said.... She said..." and you do not need to mention that the Male Main Character looks like a golden Adonis more than once a chapter. Actually, mentioning that the MMC looks like a golden adonis more than once a chapter will get you eaten by zombies.

Consider yourself warned. Use the delete key.

What to look for-
Take a look at your open chapter and see if you say yes to any of these.
~ Your word count is over 90,000
~ You have feedback from beta-readers that mentions redundancies
~ Chapters either run past 3,000 words or you have short chapters that don't carry significant weight and move the plot forward

Not Enough Fluff:

Writer2 has a different problem. W2's work is anemic, the chapters tend to jump over scenes in a few sentences and there is never a slow moment. The pacing of this manuscript is almost frantic, everything is crammed into a few thousand words with no breathing space or description.

I spend most of my editing time here asking the author to add things. I can see the glimmer of a major turning point, but the emotional punch is weak. This is hard to edit because W2 needs to go back and add words rather than just hit the delete key.

W2 is a Spare Draft writer. When W2 goes to edit they need to start with a section of writing no more than 2,000 words in length and add to the chapter, not cut. If you are a SD writer make sure you are including description. Check for words that indicate color, height, time, and emotion. You should have all of these at intervals in a chapter. If you go through and find zero color descriptions in your chapter you better be talking about the POV from a blind character.

What to look for-
~ Low word count (under 77,000)
~ More than two major scenes or spaces of time per chapter
~ Comments from beta-readers about not having time to connect to characters or the pace is too fast

Enough Fluff, But Not the Right Stuff:
The third example for comparison is the kind of story that falls into the "almost, but not quite" side of the rejection letters. If Writer3 was querying at this point, but W3 is brighter than that and knows that even after polishing to full novels they still need some fine tuning.

What I see when I edit this manuscript is the right amount of fluff, but focused on the wrong thing. W3 suffers from Mad Character Love. W3 does not often repeat ideas, but W3 can spend 500 words describing moonlight on a character's hair. And the book is an epic high fantasy.

The problem here is like a woman with all the right curves, in all the wrong places. A lady looks good with a bit of padding! As long as it's strategically located...

I think W3 is a closet FFD writer, much like W1. But W3 has learned how to edit with more efficiency. But W3 doesn't always realize that the reader is really not interested in being told how cool and amazingly awesome beyond all belief a character is, we want to see the amazingly awesome character doing cool things.

If you fear you suffer from Mad Character Love make a list common complaints from your beta-readers. You probably have one character that you love on just too much. When you start to wax lyrical about their sharp emerald eyes and astounding feats of martial skill highlight, hit cntrl+x, and then dump that ode to the character in your own personal slush pile.

What to look for-
~ word count falls within the accepted range
~ feedback from critters, beta-readers, or agents saying "almost, but it still seems a little off"
~ long passages of description about only one character
~ finding your hand hovering over the delete key because the paragraph is just So Passionate you hate to lose that beautiful writing... for the love of zombies, let it go!

The Question:
What kind of writer are you? Is your rough draft style spartan or epicurean?

You need to know this!

There is nothing wrong with either style. Both have advantages and both have disadvantages. But you approach editing differently if you have a different style.

I am an SD writer. I know that when I edit I have to add details: colors, emotions, directions, temperatures. I have a check list. And often, I don't add enough. That's why I have beta-readers I love and adore who know what I can do well, and encourage me to get it right.

For a writer like me I start with smaller chapters, usually between 1,500 and 2,000 words, and I add to that. For a FFD writer, you need to start with larger chunks of writing, probably around 4,000 words, and cut back.

And, if you can't bear to lose a single sentence, create a slush pile. Open a new word document and drop all your little gems of writing there. Who knows, you might be able to come rescue a phrase or two at a later date.

The image of the fluffy bunny is courtesy of and copyrighted to Sorange.
The Zombie Bunny is courtesy of and copyrighted to The Artist Dark Lady.
The Curvy Woman is image is courtesy of and copyrighted to LimeGreenSquid.
The Boy Reading a Book is courtesy of and copyrighted to Tooshtoosh.


  1. I'm the fluffy type. Not just Angora bunny fluffy, but Angora Fluffy Bunny with strapped-on VandeGraff generator and a weave! My first attempt at a novel was well over 400k words. I learned a lot...especially how to cut, lol.

  2. Oh, forgot to say this is a great post. I'll probably link to it.

  3. I don't ever do enough. My first drafts are around 30k. I'm constantly trying to figure out what more I need in my books. I'm hoping though that since I write YA I can get away with at least a little shorter. At least I'm aware of it though.

  4. Great information. I haven't yet figured out what type of writer I am, but this is really helpful. Thanks.

  5. Well, I know which one I am, but I won't point it out since I am one of the writer's your reading for...


  6. No worries, Glam, you aren't the only one I'm reading for. And you aren't the only one with your writing style.

    It's not a bad thing! You just need to know what your style is when you sit down to edit. Otherwise you won't know what problems to look for.

    Janeal- I forgot to include word counts for YA and MG. I think 30k sounds right for mid-grade, but maybe a little low for YA. As long as you go in knowing you need to add details, you ought to be fine. Good luck!

    Written- That is a funny image.

    Eric- You were supposed to have a manuscript open so you could compare and decide! Go look! Or ask a beta-reader who has seen your rough draft. I bet they know.

  7. I'm kinda between FFD and SD. I know I'm wordy in the wrong ways :P but I also tend to ignore most things like description and whatever else in favor of getting to the action and fun stuff. %-)

    It's a weird mix of trimming off fatty extra words and adding necessary fleshing out when revising. *sigh* No wonder I never get around to it...

    Nice post, Lei!


  8. I'm anaemic. Well, my writing is anyway. I always find it easy to write less rather than more and I'm impatient with descriptions.

    I'm so glad I'm not the only person like this!

    I'm learning to go back and put details in so that people can tell whether the MC is male or female and where the action is happening. I've got a long way to go!

  9. ...is it fate that my word verification is intskise? Does that look suspiciously link 'Inksie' to anyone else?


    I'm an SD writer. I don't mean to be. I always FEEL like enough's going in - in fact, I'm paranoid of overwriting, since that's what my uni professor used to harp on at me about. And yet my drafts always hit the high 60s, which is way short.

    So I always have to add a few scenes, shore up the characters' motivations, and introduce imagery. Fun way to edit, tho.