Getting Readers on Wattpad

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That’s why you’re thinking about posting your story on Wattpad, right? Everyone wants to have their story read. But how do you get people to read a new story on a site that has literally millions of stories?

There are stories on Wattpad with millions of views and thousands of votes, and it can be really disheartening when your story has only a few dozen reads and four votes.

I have been posting my fantasy THE SHADOW WATCH regularly on Wattpad for about 7 weeks now. I am at 2,300 reads and about 400 votes. In the scheme of things on Wattpad, that’s nothing spectacular. But it has been steadily building, and that is the biggest thing to remember. Hitting 1K reads was a sweet spot that seemed to boost daily readership. Your story begins looking like one worth checking out.

But how to get there?

The other day, I was reading Taran Matharu’s account of posting his story, Summoner: The Novice. He posted daily during NaNoWriMo and reached a million reads in about three months. Incredible! But that is not usually the case, at all, and I just started feeling a bit discouraged, really, because that would be so cool, but that is soo not what has been happening.

But, here’s a truth, even the most successful authors on Wattpad typically go through the slog of building readership over many months.

I currently average about 50-100 reads a day on my story, and anywhere from 5 to 30 votes, typically from around 10 unique readers, and I have spent the last month on the Fantasy Hot List, typically in the top 300 or 400.  Again, nothing crazy. But when I think back to being desperate for a single vote or read when I first started posting, it is actually not too bad.

I have about a dozen or so really dedicated readers, at the moment. Ones who read chapter updates right away and enthusiastically comment (a couple have been with me since the first postings, which is pretty cool) and chat about the story. But you will find these are few and far between. When you get them, treat them well. Thank them often. Dedicate chapter to them. Maybe follow them. 

The majority of Wattpad readers are “silent readers.” Meaning they don’t vote on every chapter (or not at all), nor do they comment, but every now and then one will thank me for posting the story, etc. A little frustrating when you want votes, but you will find that the people who care about votes and comments are typically writers, and the majority of your readers won’t say much, because they just want to read. But hey, someone is still taking the time to read your stuff, and that is awesome, so don’t knock on silent readers. If they interact at all, thank them for taking the time to read your stuff.

*An aside — Don’t be that person who sends messages to followers about how they wish people would vote and comment and quit being silent. No one likes that person.*

 

So how do you build readership, then?

 

Well, I am assuming your story is already top quality, with no grammar mistakes, complex characters, and wonderful tension! No? Then, edit and make sure it’s good before posting. Obviously, if you have major structural flaws, you will have trouble getting noticed (unless you are writing One Direction fan fiction, then it seems anything goes).

There is no exact formula to building readership on Wattpad, but I truly believe these things will help everyone. They have worked for me, and are what I see successful writers doing.

 

  1. COVER! COVER! COVER! —  Don’t throw a crappy cover up and wonder why no one is clicking on your story. Find someone who can make a decent one. Deviant Art is a good place to look, as well as the Design forums on Wattpad. There are people who will make you a cover in exchange for you dedicating a chapter to them, or reading and commenting on a couple chapters of their story. Pretty good deal! Get a decent cover before you post anything.
  2. BLURB! — Maybe I will write more about the blurb sometime, but for now, look up what you should include in the blurb, and check out the blurbs of popular stories on Wattpad. What makes them stand out? Be sure to highlight your Main Character and the main conflict quickly. Unless people click on your story, they will only see the first few lines, so make them juicy. Don’t give us paragraphs of worldbuilding or description. Give us tension and make us need to find out what will happen in the story.
  3. POST REGULARLY! — This is one of the biggest things you can do to help yourself build momentum early. I would recommend 2-3 updates a week as you start out. Every time you post, your readers receive push notifications on their phones and an email, that reminds them 2-3 times a week that your story is there and is updating. Also, the more they have to read, the more votes and comments you can get. Don’t post all at once! But steadily put it out there. If possible set a definite schedule. I post every Monday and Friday. My followers and readers know when the new chapters come out and can depend on it.
  4. INTERACT WITH THE READERS YOU HAVE! — I don’t care if you have one reader or a hundred or more. Respond to every comment. Thank people when they vote for your story. Even the top writers do this. Have someone who comments on your story a lot? Why not dedicate a chapter to them. It will make them feel more invested in the story.
  5. BE PATIENT! — It will probably not happen overnight. Just keep at it! While you’ve got time, read other people’s work. See what they do. Get involved on the forums. There are lots of great people there. There are forums for Undiscovered writers. Why not see if some of them want to trade feedback? You may find a new reader who will stick with you the whole way, and you may find out you need to fix some things in those opening chapters.

 

A Couple Freebies

These aren’t necessarily what everyone does, but I picked up some readers through them.

  1. ENTER A CONTEST — Got an awesome story? Why not enter a contest? There are many on Wattpad. For Fantasy and Sci-Fi writers, there is an awesome group called FANTASCI that holds awesome contests regularly and are hosted by top writers on the site in the genre. I connected with a couple top-notch writers through this, and also found some dedicated readers, based on a blurb and cover contest. It is a chance to stand out, because the contests are not based on current readership, just quality writing.
  2. FORUMS — I know I’ve said it before, but seriously, connect with other writers. The community is very supportive. Make friends. Are you undiscovered? Go to the forums, and connect with others? You a romance writer? Connect with other romance writers. Don’t promote yourself! Just chat and connect. Maybe check out some of their stories. But in the long run, this will serve you well.

 

Some Don’ts

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  1. Don’t create fake accounts and get fake votes and comments on your story.
  2. Don’t mass follow people in hopes they’ll follow you back, and especially don’t mass follow writers, because it is annoying.
  3. Don’t troll around begging for reads. You just look desperate.

 

 

Okay, that is all for now. I am still new to the site. But I am pleased with my progress and am excited to see how the momentum continues to build.

 

You a Wattpadder? What works for you? What doesn’t? Was this helpful?

 

Let me know in the comments!

 

And hey, feel free to follow me on Wattpad: S.A. Klopfenstein

 

And if you care to check out my fantasy story, THE SHADOW WATCH, you can read it here: THE SHADOW WATCH

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Posting a Story on Wattpad

I am beginning a new blog series discussing my experience on Wattpad. If any of you are using the social writing and reading site, I would love to dialogue about it.

If you are new to Wattpad, it is a website where thousands upon thousands of writers post stories or novels, typically serially, for free for readers around the world to read. The majority of readers are teens and young adults, largely female, and the content includes high-quality novels that have gone on to be published as well as many lower quality fan fiction stories, etc. The most popular genres are fantasy, science fiction, romance, and fan fiction, though there are markets for most genres.

I approached the site warily at first, throwing up a few sample chapters of an old story about a year ago, to gauge reader reactions, with no fanfare. Meanwhile, other complete stories were garnering millions of reads.

The more I read up on the site, the more I realized I was approaching the site wrong. It is a social network focused on writing and reading. Some writers find great success, and go on to commercial or self publication with much success.

My experience with other writing sites hasn’t been the best. I’ve found most of the time they are designed for other writers, who are reading your work hoping for you to give them feedback. This can be helpful for critique. But if you are a YA writer like me, you wonder how real teens will like your story, versus writers trading critique-reads.

If building readership and engaging with real readers is what you want, then Wattpad may be the site for you.

As I worked on a new project, I decided to test the waters, and really give the site a go. I have begun posting chapters serially for my new fantasy THE SHADOW WATCH.

I am only a couple weeks in, and I have quickly found some amazing readers who have left lovely comments and cannot wait for the next chapter. Every day, that number increases. I have experienced nothing like it yet as an unpublished author. You get in-line feedback and reactions from real readers, reading your story because it sounded interesting to them.

Here are a few tips I’ve discovered so far, in order to stand out on the site and build readership:

  1. Your cover — you need to have a good, professional looking cover. There are so many stories with bad covers that you will immediately stand out.
  2. Follow readers in your genre — Wattpad lists users who have works written or lists of books they are reading. I follow readers who have followed other fantasy writers. Many of them have added my book to their lists and enjoyed it. I try not to follow writers unless I am reading their work and want their updates.
  3. Post polished work — Wattpad is not like other writer sites, where you post for critiques. You may get some, but readers are looking for professional-looking stories.
  4. Interact with your readers — Wattpad is a social network. Consider it more like Twitter. If someone takes the time to follow you or add your work to their lists, thank them. If they comment, write back.
  5. Give your readers a schedule — I post every Monday and Friday. Readers know as soon as they finish the latest chapter when they can read the next one. It also gives you a deadline and readers who will be letdown if you don’t meet it.
  6. Read the works of other writers — Check out what some of the most successful writers are doing on the site. How long are their chapters? Do they give readers a call to action? Do they dialogue with readers? You will learn what works, and you will also read some quality stories. Like I said, many top-rated stories find great success beyond Wattpad.

All right, that is all for now. I will be sharing more tips and sharing more experiences soon.

If you are on Wattpad, what have you found works for you? How do you use the site?

 

If you are interested in reading my fantasy, THE SHADOW WATCH, check it out here:

 

The Writer and the Human Inside (Writing for an Audience and Being True to Yourself)

I have found that I can be a bit of a shapeshifter. Not like a werewolf, but a shifter of personality depending on the people I am around. Like an actor, or a party-goer with many different masks, I can change. Sometimes it is evident in the things I say, or don’t say. Sometimes the things I do. Sometimes the things I write.

Have you ever been around old high school or college friends, and suddenly you realize you are acting and talking like you did then?

Two-men-on-Spacehoppers-001I read a book called Scary Close not long ago about building more intimate relationships with others. It was largely focused on romantic relationships, but it also delved into friendships too. The author, Don Miller, talked about discovering the sort of “writer person” persona he developed out of a desire to be liked. In social settings he would jump at the chance to tell someone what he did for a living, because it would make people find him more interesting. This mentality of people-pleasing also affected his writing, and after writing a successful memoir, he began to write what his audience would generally expect and like. He played it safe basically and didn’t take risks, and also didn’t convey his true thoughts or full thoughts oftentimes.

I find myself doing things like this. Wanting to be the person the people around will like. Keeping silent when I disagree with someone about religion or politics, because I want them to like me. (And also because people who talk about religion or politics generally aren’t looking for open discussion, but are looking for affirmation from people who already agree with them.)Oh-tell-me-34w8e6

I’ve been wondering a bit about how much this affects my daily life, the things I write, my relationships. This people-pleasing thing is really rooted in fear, I think. Fear of what people will think of me if I don’t comply to their opinions or standards.

But you can’t get very close to other people if you simply put on a them-like mask for a bit, or if you please everyone. You might have fewer disagreements or “discussions” but not authentic friendships. Perhaps this is why so many relationships are so superficial.

For those who write, putting on masks can affect the authenticity of the work. We live in a weird conundrum where we create things that will then be read and either appreciated or despised by the audience.

I find myself wondering how different people will react to something I write, whether people I know or potential agents or publishers or readers. Sometimes, I have made changes based on these wonderings, rather than staying entirely true to the story I was telling. I think a lot of writers do, whether it is trying to please a certain audience or hit a publishing trend or wondering how that mega-conservative aunt might react to your LGBT character.
For me, I am trying to be true to the story and true to myself more, in life and in writing. I think authenticity always rings true, and people gravitate towards that. Don’t be afraid to buck the trend or defy the genre or unsettle that aunt. In some ways, I suppose we must consider the audience and the genre. But don’t let it hold you or your writing back. Write the stories you want to write. Be the person you truly are. Whoever doesn’t like it, can just keep walking.

Publication Does Not a Writer Make (What Exactly Makes a Writer a Writer?)

I was at a writer’s conference not long ago, and one of the speakers said something disturbing. Like most such conferences, there were writers of varying genres present as well as several editors and agents and such. The disturbing speaker was the editor of a Poetry magazine and, while she was encouraging local poets to submit their work during panel time, she quipped, “You should submit your work. Because you are not a real writer until you’ve sent your work out there to be read.”

Now I know the editor meant well, and I appreciate that she was encouraging writers to submit their work for possible publication. I think that’s great, but…

WHOA! HOLD ON A SEC!

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You’re not a writer until you are submitting for publication?! Not until other people read my writing, am I a writer?!

Several others in the room were nodding their heads, and a flurry of “wannabes” were thinking, “Man, I gotta get my stuff out there, since I’m not a writer yet! What am I even doing at a writer’s conference?”

Meanwhile I shook my head and cringed quite a bit as the panel moved on. There was a New York Times bestselling writer there as well. One who had traveled a fairly long and rocky road to publication. And she was cringing visibly too.

She didn’t speak up, but I wish she would have, because she was on the panel too. And because that editor’s notion of what constitutes a writer was complete rubbish. She knew it, and so did I.

A writer is someone who writes.

If you have written, then you are a writer!

You are not defined by your publication status.

Nor are you defined by your readership.

Screen Shot 2014-09-15 at 8.07.57 AMEmily Dickinson was published largely post-humously. Stieg Larsson’s Millenium trilogy was published after his death, before he had a single one of the millions of readers he has today (outside of his journalism of course).

This sort of notion that submission and publication deems one a writer is disturbing and harmful to writers everywhere, and I think it is a common mentality among folks in the “biz” as well as the so-called “wannabe” writers. To say nothing of the assumption that “house” publication is the only path to readership, and therefore to being considered a “true” writer.

I may not have a readership for years. And there is nothing wrong with that. I have spent countless hours writing, and that makes me a writer. And it makes you one too.

firstDraftYou are a writer during the first draft, and the first novel you decided you hated and trashed, and the one you submitted but which was rejected by a hundred agents and editors, and the one you self-published to small fan-fare, as well as the piece of writing which got you readership and broke out, or whatever.

Publication is not the point, and neither are the readers.

They are handy when they come. Sure. But failure and rejection and crappy first novels (or seconds or thirds) are all a part of the process of growing as a writer. Not the path from wannabe to actual writer. Stephen King threw out the original draft of Carrie because he thought it garbage. Had his wife not discovered it in the trash and read it and told him he had something going there and to keep writing it, we might not be reading it in droves still forty years later. Along with all his other stories for that matter. Who knows? But he was a writer then as much as now.

You don’t become a writer once people appreciate it. People have simply discovered you are a writer once they are able to read what you wrote. And incidentally, it doesn’t take a magazine or house to get there. It can, but it is not a requirement.

If you’ve written, you are a writer. So enough with all that crap. Keep writing, because you are a writer and you have to write. Not so you can become a writer. But because you are a writer, and that is what you do.

No matter who has discovered your writing yet.

Word Vomit and then… Publish? (Tips for Writing Higher Quality Blogs, and Fiction)

If you’re like me, you get really excited about finishing something you’ve set out to write. It doesn’t matter if it’s 500 words or 90,000, I am really bad about this: I get so excited about finishing the project that I immediately want to send it out into the world. I am riding high on writer’s adrenaline, and in that state of mind, everything I’ve written feels amazing, and ready to publish.

A couple years ago I finished a novel I’d been working on for sometime. It’d been written in a couple big chunks mostly, several months apart. There were inconsistencies and plot holes and characters that needed to be fleshed out more and so on and so on. But that didn’t matter. I was riding high and had finally finished and I was pumped about it. I had been anticipating having a completed novel I could query…

So what did I do? I sent out query letters on a novel in no shape for publication.send-button

It got rejected, of course.

A year and a half later, and I am finding I still have a lot of work I need to do on that novel. It really needs a completely re-typed fourth draft, which I will get to once I’ve finished another novel I am writing.

I have found that this too-eager tendency goes with my blogging as well. There have been more times than I’d like to admit that I’ve hit “Publish” and then read over what I posted on my blog and had to go back and make several changes, because I was too eager and too impatient.

Too Easy to Publish?

self-publishing-bannerWith the onset of blogging and self-publishing it has become real easy to put writing out there for the world. Perhaps too easy.

I read recently that people get themselves in a lot more trouble these days, due to Facebook and email. You can write hate-mail or angry rants or insults or whatever. You can spew all your angry thoughts and then hit send without thinking it through. People have lost jobs and probably countless relationships as a result of word vomiting, and then promptly hitting send.

How many readers might we lose by doing the same?

Don’t Settle

The truth is there are a lot of crappy blogs with spelling errors galore, and even ambiguous points to the posts themselves. You may be able to get by with it, get some hits, some likes, and some new follows based off your ideas. But I bet you will get more if it’s higher quality.

In addition, there are heaps of crappy books out there that got word vomited, slapped with a stock-photo cover and a gradient effect on the font, and then put out there on Amazon too early. They aren’t the ones selling like crazy. They might get some decent sales, if they’re lucky. But why settle for that, when you can write quality and get more sales?

People have already got a million reasons not to read your stuff. Let’s be real. There is more written content accessible than ever before in the history of the world.

reasons-stop-reading-blogYou don’t want your writing, whether it is a quick blog or an epic novel, to go unread simply because you didn’t take the time to edit it and make it the best it could be. There are a lot of factors that you don’t have control over when it comes to readership. But the one you can control is the quality of your content.

A few tips before you hit “Publish”

These are going to be specifically about blogs. Many of the same principles apply to longer works, but there is a lot more to them.

  • Save it as a draft and Set It Aside — This may just be an hour or two. Finish the first draft, and then, close your laptop. Go for a walk or do yard work or whatever. Give your mind a break from whatever it is you’ve been writing.
  • Look at it again with Fresh Eyes — Editing immediately will likely leave your writing still replete with errors. When we look at something closely for a while, we tend not to have an eye for structural errors or lack of continuity. Now that you’ve had your break, go ahead and take a look at it again. As you are going, look for continuity errors and structural flaws. Is your point clear and focused in your blog? Do you need to cut some rambling?
  • Print It Out and edit again, now for spelling and grammar — I have found that I notice even more problems when I print things out and edit with a red pen. Spelling errors seem to stand out more off-screen. Then go back into your word processor and fix them.
  • Read it over One More Time — Is it really ready now?
  • Alright, Hit “Publish” — Now that you have taken a break and taken your time editing thoroughly, you are ready to put your work out there.

If you rush less, you will produce far better work that makes a clearer point without needless spelling and grammatical errors. Your readers will more easily understand what you have to say, resulting in more likes, follows, and hits on your blog.

And, like I said, the same principles apply to your longer work. Don’t rush the process. It will be worth the wait when more people read the finished project.

Don’t cheat yourself with the things you can control.

Now quit reading blogs and get writing! Best of luck!

Saying No to a Book Offer Pt. 2 (Author Mills and Bad Publishers)

I wrote another piece a while back on an experience I had with a sketchy vanity publisher, while seeking publication for a novel I wrote. I received quite a few emails about it from other writers. Several of them asking if it had to do with another publisher we’d had mutual interaction with. So I thought perhaps I should share another story of when to say NO when seeking publication.

I won’t name names, because this is my personal opinion on them, and I have spoken to other writers who were happy with being published at this house, and I don’t think it’s very nice to blog-bash.

I was very excited at first to get a full request from this company. They had some very nice looking covers and were YA focused and, by all ways of telling through email, seemed very friendly. I eagerly sent off my manuscript with that incredible roller coaster feeling in my stomach of being excited and terrified simultaneously. They had commented that, though my manuscript was a little on the long side, they were excited to read it.

I waited and waited, for the entirety of three weeks before hearing back. The publisher was offering me a contract. I could hardly believe it. But perhaps this was for a reason.

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Now, to be fair, this was a genuine publisher. This wasn’t vanity. They did not want any money from me. They had some e-book sales high on Amazon. They were legit. They asked if I was still interested. I said yes I was, and they drew up a contract.

But there were warning signs.

Warning #1: Short and Vague

The offering letter was short. Now I am not against succinctness, but there was much left to be desired in this offer. Essentially, they said they wanted to publish it, along with two sequels. They did not say how perfectly my novel would fit on their list. They did not say how they couldn’t wait for the world to see it. They just wanted to publish it. It was all pretty vague.

Nevertheless, I said I was interested and asked to see a contract, thinking perhaps there would be more details then.

Warning #2: Shorter and More Vague

Nope! The contract was no better. It was very generic, which is not too strange. I find all contracts in any respect to be this way to an extent. But it was also very short. The last contract I’d been offered was probably fifteen pages. This was four. There were no details on their plan for my book. No marketing plan from their end, though they said they expected me to be a part of the marketing. They had no expectations for dates for the sequels. And they wanted an answer in three days.

Warning #3: No Personal Contact

Along with the ultra-succinct contract was zero offer to call me and discuss the details of it. They said I could contact them with questions. But there were answers I needed, and they seemed to be hoping I would just sign and perhaps then we’d talk later. After I’d given them the rights to my book for five years.

I could have called them, sure. But I just felt like if they wanted my book, they should also be personally offering to walk me through these steps. It was all pretty impersonal. This didn’t seem to bode well for how they would handle marketing and distribution.

So I dug deeper. You should investigate as much as you can about any potential publisher or agent.digging-hole

Digging:

  • I contacted a few of their authors
  • I asked other writers
  • I researched their books and sales on Amazon
  • I read about small-house publishing experiences

Results:

  • The authors had nice things to say. The publisher was nice. It had gotten their work out there. Mostly e-book stuff. The payout was higher than many houses. Some of the writers had moved on to self-publishing instead.
  • Other writers had submitted. Found out the publisher made quite a few offers. Many writers shared my concerns.
  • They had some sales that were decent. They also had a crap-ton of books out there and coming out soon, and they were a pretty new publisher.
  • This was not that normal for small publishers.

In the end, after three whopping days, I declined the offer.

Though there were many authors who seemed content with the publisher, I also felt like I could do nearly as much as the publisher by self-publishing.

They wanted me to help market (not abnormal for small publishers), but they also didn’t seem to distribute much off-line. And didn’t do much beyond arranging blog-reviews and things like this.

They had a crap-ton of books they were releasing, and I knew of several others who had gotten offers recently or were being considered.

Along with their short consideration time, and vagueness, and quick response to my full manuscript, I concluded….

That they were an author mill.

They made good-looking books and generated sales, without doing a lot of marketing outside what the authors were doing online and such (They did do some, however). They threw a lot of books out there, and got sales from them due to a lot of books generating semi-decent sales. They did some print, but it was largely e-book focused.

I concluded that, though they might help me reach an audience and sell some books, and get going. I could easily get lost in the slush of many new releases. I would have to put a lot of work into it. And if I am doing that, then why wouldn’t I just self-publish, and get more of the money?

Best of luck to you on your writing and publishing journey. Be discerning, and don’t rush!

Don’t be afraid to say no!

*I would love to hear from you if this was helpful to you, or if I can be of further help!*

*Please leave a comment about your own experiences!*

*If you’d like to check out the first few chapters of my novel, The Lingering Shadow, go here.*

Cheers!

S. Andrew

For Writing’s Sake

For many it is that glorious threshold attained that leads to success, and for many, it is seen as a bar of success for writers. For others it is that tantalizing tease like a carrot before a horse that never seems to swing any closer from its string no matter how long it strives. For others it is written off as corporate and sacrificed for something more readily attainable.

Publication.

For me, it has always been a goal and dream since I began writing seriously in college. This lofty achievement that might prove I was a decent writer. For me, self-publishing has never been an interest, though I don’t knock it in any way. I have always been a reader who reads hard-copy books he picks up in dusty used book shops, and for me, that’s where I’d like people to pick up my own work. Also I’d rather have someone else to do my marketing so I can just write. But that’s an aside.

I’ve been querying a book awhile now, without luck, and it’s got me thinking.

With a growing list of rejections it might be easy to get discouraged and perhaps give up, yet I still love writing, and I still have stories begging to be told. There was a time I once thought I would try to sell this one story when I finished it, and if not, I’d probably give writing up and move on to Big Kid Life. But the longer I write, the more I realize that the writing is for me anyway.

Once, simply finishing a story was the goal. Then, publication next. But now, more and more stories are coming to me and, though I would love to be published and would also love to end up on a bestseller list someday (who wouldn’t?), that is increasingly being revealed to me as Not the Point.

The point is the writing itself. Being a storyteller and telling a story to the end. The creation process from first idea to scenes made manifest to writing that closing line. All of it is therapeutic and life-giving and wonderful, and despite increasing rejection from the publishing world, I still love it and want to keep writing.

If publication comes, I can guarantee I will welcome it gladly. But it is not the be all end all. It is not the point at all. The point is to write because I am a writer and I have to. Beyond that, we’ll just wait and see.

So keep writing, fellow writers. Keep telling stories and getting better at your craft.

Whoever will read will read.

Until then, we must write.

Keeping Things Plot Specific

Revision Reflections Part 2

 

In the early drafts of my novel, The Lingering Shadow, there were various elements to the story which I found very interesting, but as I was revising and redrafting, found that they slowed down my narrative significantly. Especially when I needed to trim things down. There is no better microscope for unneeded material than the need to trim down the manuscript.

Word count is a tricky thing. For established writers, I think, it is much less of a worry. Stephen King and J.K. can write for as long as they want, and sure they have editors, but they can pack a lot more into a story. For those of us still waiting to break out, word count is a constant worry. Our respective genres have expectations, and we, as newcomers, are a financial risk to publishers. My novel is YA sci-fi / fantasy. Most sources I’ve found give a general WC expectation of 80-100,000 words. Anything longer than that and agents and editors alike worry before they’ve read a word of the book. So, large as my plot is, I have striven to remain within that range. Here are some suggestions from my latest revision that have helped me keep things trimmed down.

Keep the Main Thing the Main Thing

There is a main plot line for your story. There will be smaller secondary plot lines for various characters, and you need these, because, even in first person, the story does not only belong to your Main Character. Everyone needs to be in the story for a reason, not a body count. Each character needs to WANT something, and being striving to obtain it, just as your MC is doing. Some writers keep things too simple, and everything pertains to the MC, and the secondary characters become nothing more than extra bodies in a scene. Don’t do that. However, if a character, plot line, or event is not driving the larger story forward, it can probably be cut.

For example, in my story, Taylor, my MC, originally begins the story with a boyfriend. Early on they break up, providing tension later on in the story, and between her and her good friend, Darien, who is secretly in love with her. I considered cutting the ex altogether, but found that I needed him for some tension at key points in the story, even though he doesn’t play much of a part in the larger story. But he was needed. However, I did NOT need the relationship shown in the story. I was able to cut scenes of his and Taylor’s relationship, and make him the ex from the start. Those scenes, I found, were not missed at all. I needed the ex in the story, but I didn’t need the relationship, just knowledge of it. This simplified the story and got it going much quicker, while maintaining needed tension.

Keep the STORY Moving

You need tension dripping from every page. Things can’t go your MC’s way. That’s boring. The WANTS of your characters need to clash, causing conflict. However, tension for tension’s sake is not good either. The best tension arises from those conflicting wants of your characters. Other tension drags down the story.

In early drafts, Taylor was a recovering alcoholic, who turned to drinking after her mother and sister died, and her family system fell apart. Taylor’s alcoholism was very interesting to me. I loved writing from that perspective and seeing Taylor deal with that throughout the story. However, I found that it really didn’t add anything at all to the larger story. It added some great tension early on, and then, when the bigger story comes to the forefront, it actually hindered it. I would still love to investigate the struggles of a teen alcoholic, but this wasn’t the story to do it in. I had too many other things going on that were more important. I could either keep it, and have be insignificant later, which would be a low blow to teens (or anyone) who struggles with alcohol abuse. Or I could cut it. Which I did.

This cleared up scenes and helped me keep the main story moving and at the forefront of my narrative.

Raise the Stakes

My novel is filled with several significant events that bring certain characters together and introduce the larger story (yep, I said it again). In an early draft, Taylor is attacked by a pair of drunks and a mysterious stranger named Rogue comes to her rescue. Originally, the drunks were merely a device for her and Rogue to meet. It was interesting enough, but it didn’t have anything to do with the larger story outside the meeting of two characters. But what if those drunks weren’t drunks at all, but actors, or better yet, since I’m writing about a race of humans with supernatural abilities, what if the actors were also shape shifters trying to draw out (spoiler) Taylor’s not-so-dead mother? Now that is a lot more interesting, and kept the main story at the forefront, and introduced the antagonists from the get-go, while also introducing Taylor and Rogue when Taylor is in danger, significant to their relationship and a mind connection they share, which is revealed later.

I’ll say it again, keep the larger story, the main plot, always in view. We need those secondary story lines and characters, we need that tension throughout, but it will always be more interesting if it also has to do with the real plot. This also keeps things trimmed down, and helps with that dreaded word count.