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How to Write a Novel: Word Count, Pacing, and the Filler (Rant Alert)

What is it with me and Twilight lately? I hate that stuff, but I went to look at it to form my own opinion on the story and that’s what inspired this topic today because so much was just so wrong with Eclipse, in particular the pacing and feeling that it wasn’t needed in relation to the rest of the series, though it had some nice battles and people tearing people apart.

Anyway, down to business. Word count. Word count is the number of words in a novel and the language we writers talk in when we want to talk about the length of a novel as do publishers, agents, and editors. For us writers, the longer the word count, the longer the book and for all of us writer novels, the goal is on average 75k words, more or less depending on the genre. So you’re 50k in and you’re panicking because it looks like you’re not going to hit that goal and for your genre, you need to at least hit the 65k mark.

So you decide you need more words, something else to happen and so you add another chapter. You really don’t need it but you drag out that scene, add in as many words as you can, go back and add words and lo and behold, you make it to that 75k goal…

Problem… Now go back and read it. Do you notice that your pacing is significantly messed up because of it, that by trying to make important something that really shouldn’t have been there in the first place, it feels fake? Yeah. That’s what happens when you’re shooting for word count instead of letting the story tell itself and end where it wants to.

Generally when that happens we call that a filler and while fillers are fine every now and then, they seriously mess up the pacing of your novel, especially if you try to get it to conform to the pacing of your novel. Pacing is how fast things happen and when they and a good writer knows how not to rush and how not to drag a story on and generally, fillers drag a story on and are just unneeded words that do absolutely nothing to move the plot forward. They just make the writer wordy. I know. I used to have all kinds of scenes and lines to make my word count longer, but in the end slowed the novel down. 

Trust me. The reader is more likely to get to the end without these pointless words and scenes because fillers slow the story down, makes the story seem to drag on and makes the reader say “Will they just hurry up and get to real story?” and while that tactic can work when you want to play with a reader and build the suspense, it’s like teasing a baby with a toy.

You act like you’re going to give it to them, the baby reaches for it, and you snatch it back. I guarantee you that after five minutes of this, that baby will be turning red from screaming and when they finally get the toy will throw it across the room. That’s what you’re doing to your reader. There’s only so much teasing a reader can take and fillers don’t do the job.

Then again, rushing to the end without enough setup also frustrates the reader because getting to the end is half the fun. It’s like a long drive to Chicago that we make ever year with no stops except the bathroom. Just straight driving for eight hours. That’s so not fun although the ending result may be satisfying. Then again, when we make just three or four stops along the way, it makes the ride more enjoyable.

See? There’s a delicate balance here. Too many fillers that don’t drive the plot and conflict forward, boring story and frustrated reader. Not enough stuff going on and it’s a pretty boring ride and the reader is left feeling unsatisfied.

How did Eclipse inspire this rant on word count, fillers, and pacing? Because Eclipse was just a big filler novel between New Moon and Breaking Dawn to me. As if it wasn’t clear that Bella chose Edward from the end of New Moon, and quite frankly, this choice between immortality and mortality was something that could have been incorporated in the second book to me and didn’t need an entire novel to be dedicated to it alone or if she wanted to do that, the thing with Jacob could have been left out. Not to mention that I got the sense that things were being made important to fit into the pacing that weren’t really important for the sake of the story. But that’s just me. Either way, it inspired this rant.

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