Urban Fantasy: A Closer Look

Let’s talk urban fantasy!

Welcome back to Fantasy Month! As a reminder, you can find out all about this event over on Jenelle Schmidt’s blog.

Previously, we’ve discussed some of the subgenres of fantasy, but today I want to delve more into urban fantasy, its own subgenre of fantasy. Why? Because urban fantasy has a lot of subtle nuances that tend to be used interchangeably, and there can be a lot of disagreement about what exactly urban fantasy is.

But first, a note. Even though this is how I define urban fantasy, you don’t have to agree with me. Not everyone does! But I encourage you to share your ideas in the comments so we can chat. I’d love to hear your thoughts!

Urban fantasy is not contemporary fantasy

I feel like this is a common misconception. Many people equate urban fantasy with anything set in modern time. However, it’s a bit more nuanced than that.

By definition, urban fantasy (UF) must take place in a city setting (urban). It could be historical urban fantasy, but the most likely, and the most recognized, is modern day city settings.

Contemporary fantasy, on the other hand, isn’t restricted to a city setting. It can be rural, under the ocean, on the moon…though there may be other overlapping genres there. 😉 But the key is that it takes place in current times without specifying location.

Contemporary and low fantasy aren’t the same

Low fantasy, similar to contemporary fantasy, takes place in our world. However, similar to urban fantasy, it does not have to be modern time. Contemporary, by definition, does take place during modern times.

Urban fantasy and paranormal romance are similar…but not the same

This one is still fuzzier to me. Urban fantasy is similar to paranormal romance (PNR), but it tends to focus much less on romantic elements. PNR centers on romantic relationships, though it shares many other characteristics with UF. As I had mentioned last year in the fantasy subgenres breakdown, paranormal itself tends to center on another specific characteristic, so I’d say that PNR is just paranormal with a romantic twist.

Do you have a good definition of PNR? Do you love it? Hate it? Tell me in the comments!

So what are some hallmarks of urban fantasy?

Many people will overlap urban and contemporary fantasy, and there are a lot of book series that fall into this category in bookstores and online. Many of them tend to share some of the same features (but these are by no means inclusive and UF doesn’t have to contain all of them):

  • Brandon Sanderson once described urban fantasy as “chicks in leather fighting demons”. This can be accurate for some.
  • Many main characters (not all) are female.
  • Main characters may be human or not. But they become deeply immersed in supernatural culture.
  • There are often slow-burn romantic elements, but it is not the focus of the story, and romance isn’t a requirement.
  • Books are often long-running series.
  • Each book in a series is self-contained, but overall character arcs continue to develop from book to book.
  • UF may contain the following (or more!): shifters, fae, werewolves, vampires, ghosts, mages, demons, angels, any magical creature you can think of.

Do you have other characteristics you’ve seen in urban fantasy? What are they? Tell me in the comments!

Final thoughts

Personally, I LOVE urban fantasy, but I know it isn’t for everyone. For me, I love that idea that magic could be just around the corner, that we just don’t see it around us. It’s an idea I became almost obsessed with over the past several years, starting with when I read the Mercy Thompson books in grad school. And because of my love for it, I tend to write quite a bit of it.

This Cursed Flame is a YA contemporary/portal fantasy. It doesn’t take place in a city, but it is set in modern times. It includes many, many djinn. And a genie.

Pumpkin Spice Pie-Jinks is also contemporary fantasy, but it doesn’t take place in a city, so again, just contemporary. It does, however, have fae all over it.

And my newest release (out today!), Freeze Thaw, is a blend of contemporary and historical fantasy, as it combines magic in the Ice Age with magic in the modern world. But it’s set at an archaeological dig rather than a city, so I say, again, contemporary.

I’d love to tell you of all my upcoming projects, but it would simply take too long. So instead, do you have any favorite UF (or similar) reads? What are they? Why do you love them? Let’s chat!

~~~

New Release Announcement!

As I mentioned, Freeze Thaw is out today! It is novelette length and a Sleeping Beauty retelling…in fact, it’s the same story that started all the Seasons of Magic stories! It was a Top Ten finalist in the Rooglewood Press Five Magic Spindles contest, and I am still in love with my story.

Click on the picture or the link above to find out more!

Five Ways my Reading Changed (After I Published)

Ever since I started seriously writing, my reading has transformed. Before, I could sit and read just for enjoyment, but when you start aiming for a career as an author, you begin to also read for your job. And sometimes that means reading things that you wouldn’t just pick up for fun…but it also means you read things you wouldn’t read if you weren’t a writer, such as nonfiction books on craft. It expands your understanding, your knowledge, and your capacity for new stories (at least for me).

But you know what else? There are also attitudes that change when you start reading as a writer. In fact, for me, there are five big attitude shifts I had after I began publishing my own work. Let’s break them down.

Writers are people, not figures

Yeah, I know this one sounds weird, but as a reader with no connections to the publishing world, it’s really easy to forget that there is a person behind that author name on the cover. They’re real people with real emotions and feelings who may even read your reviews.

But once you are one of those names yourself, you remember everything that goes into a book and the struggles of the people writing them. It becomes more human, beyond the humanity you might see in the pages themselves.

The writing world is small

I know this doesn’t sound like an attitude, but let me dig a little deeper.

The writing world is small. Especially within your genre. You are likely to meet many of these people at least once in your life, particularly if you attend conferences or spend a lot of time on social media.

And people will see what you say about other writers or even agents. Both writers and agents talk to each other, so your comments and interactions will not be forgotten easily and may spread throughout the community.

Before I published, as a reader I felt entitled to say whatever I wanted about a book (not attacking the author, of course). But now, I know that my reviews can potentially damage my relationship with other authors, depending on what I say.

Before, I had no problem posting a one-star review on Goodreads. Now, if I don’t like I book, I mark it read and do not review or rate it.

I even went back and edited old bad reviews so that, while I was still being truthful, I wasn’t being mean. Because…now I remember that authors are people too, and my obligations are not ONLY to the readers.

They’re to all of us book nerds.

You see all the errors more

I was a grammar fiend before, and I’m an even bigger one now. I notice when the writing style is poor, when the plot is lacking, when the characters are flat, when a book has too many problems. I can pick out ways the writing could be improved. I find books more predictable than I used to.

But a lot of people still like those books with the problems (including mine). Every book has its audience. And now I understand that not every book is for me.

And that’s okay.

But you’re more understanding when they happen

Now that I know all the work (and money) that goes into publishing a book, especially independently, I am a lot more forgiving of editing errors than I used to be. It’s easy, even in trad books, for typos and inconsistencies to fall through the cracks. Just like every other job, publishing is performed by humans, and humans can make mistakes.

And you know what? Those mistakes are okay. I have learned that stories can be less than perfect and still be wonderful.

I read more…both for pleasure and for education

One of the features I love on Goodreads is the Reading Challenge. I love setting goals and being able to see how my reading habits have changed over the years.

And guess what? I may have less time, but I read more than ever before (at least in my recorded history).

The first year I did the Goodreads Challenge, I had a goal of 45 books and read 65. Last year, I set a goal of 70 and read 92. This year, I set my goal at 80 and expect to clear it easily (I’m already 6 books in).

But the volume isn’t the only thing that’s changed. So has the variety.

You see, where I used to read exclusively novels, now I listen to audiobooks, read short stories and novellas, read more nonfiction, read manga and graphic novels, and read both indie and traditionally published works.

My reading horizons have grown, and with it, my dreams.

And honestly, what more could I ask for?

~~~

Writer friends, what things have you noticed about your reading since you began writing? Readers, do you have any opinions on these attitudes? Let’s chat in the comments! ❤

Why Writers NEED to Read

It’s probably pretty safe to say that writers are, first and foremost, lovers of story. And often that naturally means that they are also some of the biggest bibliophiles you’ll ever find!

But there’s more to it than that. Writers actually NEED to read…for a number of reasons.

Let’s take a look at why.

Honing their Craft

Of course, firstly writers need to read to improve their own writing. How else can we learn how to write well (or how to avoid writing poorly) than by reading widely? In fact, Stephen King once famously said that writers who don’t read don’t have the tools they need to write.

Yup, I brought back an old graphic…complete with the tumblog I rarely visit these days!

Yep, it’s that important. As a writer, we need to be involved in what’s going on to learn. We need to read the good and the bad, as well as books on craft and even business (yup, writing to publish also means learning how to run a business).

Learning the Market

Another huge reason why writers need to read, particularly in their own genre of choice, is to learn what’s being published and what is successful. What do readers want to read? What do publishers want to buy?

Whether you plan to indie publish or go the traditional route, it is important for you to know what sells so that you can sell your work (remember how I said writing is also business?). Agents and publishers want to know you’re familiar with the market. They want to know that you know what’s out there.

And if you’re indie pubbing, that’s how you get to sell your work: by knowing what the readers want! It also helps you learn what tropes are common (and sometimes expected) in your genre.

Expanding Our Creativity

It’s definitely worth your time to read wide. Find things that interest you, whether it’s scifi, nonfiction, romance, or whatever! By reading widely outside of your genre, you open yourself to new possibilities to include in your own stories. If you only ever read one genre, you’ll miss out on so much more you could be using. Reading, and reading a variety of things, helps us to fill our creative wells and come up with new ideas.

For the Love of Story

Most of all, writers need to read just because we are, as I mentioned earlier, lovers of story. We read for enjoyment. We read to cope with the world. We read to have a moment of escape or a bit of adventure.

Don’t forget to read for fun. 🙂

3 Ways Food is Worldbuilding

I love food.

No, really. I know that a lot of people love food, but really. I. Love. Food. I love the cultural identity that comes with it, the bonding experiences with people over meals, and of course the delicious flavors. I love food in cartoons, I love it in books, I love it in movies.

But did you know that food can also be part of worldbuilding? And that how you use and present food can help to define your world and character relationships better to readers?

And what better topic to discuss right before the US’s Thanksgiving holiday? So let’s dig right in!

Food lends an idea of place and time.

One of the beautiful things about food is that it’s incredibly diverse. A simple meal can tell a reader what kinds of crops are grown, what foods are accepted, what cultures may be involved, and the cooking capabilities of the time and place.

For example, many fantasy authors like to include feasts (more of a discussion on this can be found on the podcast Writing Excuses, season 14 episode 30, “Eating Your Way to Better Worldbuilding”). The foods are often what we see in medieval works like Lord of the Rings, including breads, meats (maybe even a whole stuffed pig), and cheeses.

But utilizing cultural foods, like saurkraut and bratwurst for example, can help the reader ground your world in a culture they may recognize. With a simple inclusion of one of these dishes, you can set a tone for what the reader can expect without overexplaining the culture.

Likewise, if you’re writing contemporary, think of what things you eat on a regular basis. Do you go to a taco truck? The cupcake stand on the corner? The fancy Asian Fusion restaurant on the other side of town?

The types of foods, and their preparation and presentation, can help readers picture your world more completely and set a tone for your world in a way that is unique to food culture.

Food can indicate a character’s condition and status.

In the same vein as the points above, the types and presentation of foods can help to solidify the conditions and status of your character. If they feast, they are in a time of plenty or they are rich and/or generous. If they’re scraping through the garbage to find a few potato peels, they’re in a pretty dire situation. How the character sustains themselves tells a lot to the reader about them.

As an example, I have a section in my first chapter of the R&R story where the younger sister is smelling what the older sister is cooking: a stew with a healthy portion of meat. The younger sister can’t help but feel angry and bitter, as the older sister is preparing meat for no reason other than to impress her peers, and they have limited amounts until the rainy season ends, not to mention how expensive it has become to purchase. She comments that they should be saving it for a feast day.

Just by this exchange, I am showing that the family has limited supplies, as does the village, and that some foods are precious and reserved for important days. It helps me establish the status of the sisters (scraping to impress the rest of the village) and the setting, as in the first point (the rainy season, a season of famine, restricted access to expensive foods).

Food can be used to strengthen a relationship.

Just like setting the tone, setting, and character status, food can also be used for building relationships. Do your characters often cook together? Is it bonding time? Do they eat out together often? Is one of them responsible for the cooking? Do they eat alone in the living room or as a family in a formal dining room?

Here’s another example from my R&R book. In a tense time, when the younger sister suddenly has expanded magic, she worries that her sister has reported her to the village officials (magic is not okay to them). When her sister gets home, they cook together in a way that is natural, indicating they’ve worked together to keep the house for years, but is full of unspoken tension masked by everyday tasks. It’s a way to show the older sister’s real actions…and reveal that she also has magic. It builds on their normal by throwing in something unexpected, something they have to discuss.

Think of a romance. How many movies and books have scenes of the male love interest cooking the woman a meal or vice versa? Or of them cooking together? It shows the amount of care they have for being together and for each other, and it can be used as a cute moment to give readers all the feels.

Food is such a handy tool for relationships!

A final word of caution

As I mentioned above, I love food. And because of this, I tend to have a lot of comfort eating scenes or cooking etc. in my stories. IT IS POSSIBLE TO OVERUSE THIS TOOL. Instead of focusing just on food or having an overabundance, make sure that each scene involving food serves a purpose. Know what that purpose is, and consider if there are any better ways to show it. Ask your beta readers for input. Be intentional.

But also don’t be afraid to pig out now and then on this powerful worldbuilding element. 😉

And of course, keep writing. (And Happy Thanksgiving, friends!)

The Lore of a Story

So I recently got a revise and resubmit request from an agent (woo!), and she was kind enough to provide incredibly detailed edit notes. I mean, like wow. Of course she is right on her criticisms, and I’m so excited that the story will be stronger for it.

But one note tripped me up: she wanted to see more lore about one aspect of the story.

Lore? Like, folk tales and writings and all that? But this book has excerpts from books and stories at the beginning of every chapter! What does it mean?!

And so I delved deeper.

Lore is, basically, the backstory , cultures, and history of your characters and world. It’s not the current story, but it can be how the circumstances led to the current story. Think of it as part of worldbuilding.

What kinds of things can we develop as lore?

  1. As mentioned above, it may be writings from the world, such as religious texts, science books, folk tales (or fairy tales), fliers, etc. Pieces of literature from the world itself. Also, if these are used in the book and placed as small excerpts at the beginning of a chapter or the book itself, it’s called an epigraph.
  2. The history of your world is also key lore. For example, in my R&R book, the history of the people is violent against magic wielders, particularly on a specific day 1000 years ago, and that shaped the way magic wielders are viewed now as well as changed the economy and independence of the country as a whole. History, or even the history that is written versus the truth of an event, can shape the very lives and circumstances of both the characters and the plot.
  3. The religion and mythology of the world. Religion plays a huge part in a lot of cultures, and these background beliefs will often dictate the way individuals and governments respond to events. Even a lack of religion will have its own effect.
  4. Character backstory may also be part of the lore, just focused in to a specific person. Knowing and understanding what your characters have faced can truly help you create realistic reactions to events in the plot and their interactions with other characters.
  5. The stories people tell can also be lore, such as local legends (or not-so-local legends), superstitions, folk tales, and fairy tales. Unlike the epigraphs or actual writings I referenced above, here I simply mean the information that people talk about and know in their day to day lives but may not necessarily be established by traditional religion or government (like a religious text would). What led to the development of these stories and superstitions? Are they grounded in truth? What happens if someone deviates from what they’re told to do through these stories?

Lore can refer to a wide range of worldbuilding, and it can be overwhelming. Some writers even get stuck in loops of just creating the background information and never quite getting around to actually writing the story. But if you focus in on which aspects are important for your story to progress and your characters to develop, you’ll find you have a richer sense of the world and more interesting writing.

Personally, I love creating the stories the people believe and sometimes how they view their worlds through a religious lens, both of which are major lore focuses in my R&R novel.

Do you have any bits of lore you love to read and/or write about? What are your favorites? Which ones bore you? Let’s chat in the comments!

And until next week, keep writing. 🙂

~~~

If you want a little extra reading on lore and story, check out this article on the Odyssey!

3 Things to Consider When Writing Seasonal Stories

You may have noticed that I recently began releasing seasonally-themed novellas (if not, scroll to the bottom for the latest news!). I have plenty of reasons for creating these books, but have you ever considered what exactly goes in to preparing a book for a seasonal release? Let’s talk about three things to consider before releasing your own seasonal stories!

You probably have to start off season

Yup, I started writing my summer story actually way back last winter. And my next release, a treat filled with all things fall, I had to start in July.

Now, I’ll admit that you can technically start during that time of year when you want to release (or even one year prior to release), and if you’re fast enough, you can release the same year. But if you’re like me, you take some time to write and revise, then you spend extra time finding beta readers, hiring developmental editing, and picking phenomenal proofreaders, not to mention finding someone to design the cover!

There’s a lot to do, and publishing something start to finish within a short timeframe is not easy.

So, for me, I have to start writing 3-4 months in advance, putting me squarely one season too early.

Planning out the release dates is important

As you might expect, picking the right release date is incredibly important when you have a story that is associated with a particular time of year. I chose October 31 to release Pumpkin Spice Pie-Jinks because my main character is a pie witch and the story is heavily influenced by Hansel and Gretel (aka CANDY)…perfect for Halloween!

But honestly, it still would have worked if I released in November.

But consider a Christmas story. It may make the most sense to release it just after Thanksgiving, when a lot of people are gearing up for Christmas and super excited about it! But you only get about one month to get people to read the story before they move on until the next year. You have a little bit less of a window for that kind of release than you would for a simple summer release, which gives you a much larger window, probably from about May to August.

Keep seasonal themes and tropes in mind

Remember that if someone is reading your story, it’s likely because they want to dive into the feelings and sparkle of the season. So play it up!

Summer? Have that beach. Go to the state fair. Jump into the jungle.

Fall? All the pumpkin spice. All the leaves. All the spooky ghosts and cozy fires.

Winter? Dance on the twinkling Christmas lights. Traverse the blustery tundra. Build snowmen!

Spring? All about renewal! Have those rainstorms. Let the flowers grow.

Don’t shy away from embracing all the things people love about the season, and put your reader into those feelings!

Final Thoughts

There are plenty of things that you may consider when writing for specific seasons and times of year, but today I talked about three you can start with and build from. Remember to give yourself time to create it, pick a date people will associate with the story, and give yourself permission to embrace all the wonderful things about that season!

Do you have any advice or thoughts for people who want to write seasonal stories? Share it in the comments and let’s talk!

~~~

News!

Pumpkin Spice Pie-Jinks has a release date! Expect it at all major retailers on October 31st. Until then, you can find it on Goodreads or preorder through the Universal Link (please be patient if not everything is there yet…each retailer has its own turnaround from submission to available).

How to Add SPOOK to Your Story

It’s October, and I’m loving the fall weather! But all the ghosties and spiderwebs around the neighborhoods got me thinking: what are some ways to make our writing spooky?

So today we’ll discuss three quick tips to add some spook to any story. Here we go!

The Sound of Language

I’m pretty sure I’ve discussed this before, but just in case, or if you’re new to the blog, one of the easiest ways to set the tone of a story is by deliberately choosing specific words.

Let’s look at an example, and you decide which sounds spookier:

  1. cemetery
  2. graveyard

If you picked graveyard, then you’re among the majority of readers!

You see, the way a word sounds can do a lot to set the tone and feel of a piece of work. Many soft sounds like ‘s’ and ‘h’ (or a ‘c’ that sounds like ‘s’) can lend a feeling of peace and contentment to a passage. But the use of harder sounds like ‘g’ and ‘k’ can introduce harsher thoughts to a reader, good for thrillers and horror or scenes that you want to feel scary.

Word Choice

But beyond just the sound, think about how your words affect the feel of a story.

If you describe something as ‘rosy’, that won’t have quite the same effect as ‘scarlet’ or ‘crimson.’ Much like above, scarlet and crimson have the harsher sounds…but they are also associated with spooky themes like blood, unlike rosy which may lead a reader to think of flowers (not so scary).

So think about the connotations your word choice has. What images are naturally evoked by the word? Will it add to your feeling of spookiness?

Descriptions

Bringing both of those two things together are descriptions. Use the word sounds and connotations to create spooky imagery. Instead of a vast rose garden, why not dead beds of thorns? Or rather than a child’s baby doll, there may be a cracked porcelain doll head.

Use your knowledge of word sounds and usage to paint a creepy picture, and immerse us in the scene.

Draw in all the senses.

Make us feel the spookiness, like the chill down our spine. The call of an owl. The sticky web stuck to our face.

Setting can do so much to create the tone for your story, so use it like the power tool it is!

Now, take these spooky ideas, and go write a spooky story!

~~~

News!

Last week was the cover reveal for Pumpkin Spice Pie-Jinks! If you missed it, hop back to the post to catch up. I’m approaching the end of the editing and uploading process, so it will be available oh so soon!

In the meantime, be sure to add it to Goodreads so you don’t miss the release!

What I Learned: Pitching an Agent

Ever wondered how to pitch your book to an agent? Here are some tips to get you started!

Hey writer friends! Last weekend I got to go to a writing conference in New Jersey. I haven’t been to one in a few years now, so it was really exciting to get to travel, meet with other writers, and have the chance to pitch Sea of Broken Glass to an agent.

But let me tell you: it is not easy figuring out how to pitch. There aren’t a ton of resources out there. And it is so nerve-wracking!

But luckily, the host, Marisa Corvisiero of Corvisiero Agency, shared some helpful tips, and I have some experiences of my own to help you prepare for your next in-person pitch.

So here we go.

Tips for Pitching an Agent

Practice your pitch.

Take some time before you get there to work through what you want to say. I used Tomi Adeyemi’s advice for crafting my pitch. I wrote out my general info, then practiced saying it until I didn’t really need to look at what I wrote. Other advice is to practice in front of friends or family, if you get the chance. For me, I was too nervous to practice before I got there…and I was so busy the week leading up to the conference that I completely forgot.

But the more you practice, the more comfortable you’ll be talking about your book and the less mechanical you’ll sound.

It’s okay to bring a notecard.

If you’re like me and have trouble remembering things when you’re nervous, write your important points on an index card to take with you. The agent won’t mind if you reference it during your pitch.

Be ready for questions.

The agent may stop you during your pitch to clarify something or just ask a general question (which is a good reason to have an index card, so you can get back on track after the question). Be ready to answer whatever they ask. Generally, they may ask to clarify some things about your story or characters or, like for me, they may even ask what inspired your story. Take a deep breath, and answer. This is your baby, and take heart that you know what you’re talking about.

Be polite.

This should go without saying, but don’t act like you’re God’s gift to the world. Be polite, be humble. If they don’t like your book, don’t be offended, and don’t lash out at them. There’s no better way to ensure no one will ever want your book than to disrespect an agent (hint: the agent community is actually quite small).

Pick the right agent.

Make sure you do your research. At every event I’ve been to, you have to pay for pitches. If you pick an agent who doesn’t even rep what you’re selling, you’ve already lost…and wasted the cost of the pitch. Also make sure they’d be interested in your content. For example, some agents, even though they may rep your genre, won’t be interested in reading your time-travel fantasy if they are mainly interested in contemporary romance. Use the time leading up to the pitching event to find your perfect fit(s). There are plenty of resources online, like Twitter, Manuscript Wish List, Publisher’s Marketplace, and Query Tracker. Use them!

They don’t care if you’re nervous.

This was actually one of the biggest things that helped me at the conference: knowing that however nervous you are doesn’t matter. And it’s okay. So just power through and talk about your story, because that’s why you’re both there. What the agent really cares about is the quality of your story.

You have the same goals.

You want to sell your book. The agent you’re pitching wants to find a great book. That’s the most important thing, even if you stumble over your words.

Don’t let your nerves get the better of you.

Marisa told a story about how she was being pitched at an event, and this person came up to pitch. Her skin was all splotchy red, she made a comment about how nervous she was, started pitching, then stopped and ran from the room. The kicker? Marisa really loved what she was pitching. She never did find that person again.

Don’t let this happen to you. Remember my earlier points, if it helps: they don’t care if you’re nervous, and they just want to hear about your book. It’s why you’re both there!

Leave them with something to remember you.

You’re a professional, so I’d recommend creating business cards and leaving one with the agent. It will give them something physical to remember you, and if you have a card that wows, so much the better!

Above all, remember that this is your baby, the story you love. Let your passion for it shine!

Conclusions and more help

These are just some quick tips, mostly for emotional support and preparation, but there are a few other resources out there that can help you pitch an agent. For instance, Writer’s Digest and Author Tomi Adeyemi both discuss pitching and how to craft your pitch. I found Tomi Adeyemi’s advice the most valuable in crafting my pitch, as I mentioned above, so you may find it practical as well.

And if you’re wondering how my pitch session went, I got a request for the first 50 pages, despite my nerves. I sent it over that very night and got a request for the full by Monday. Keep your fingers crossed that she loves the whole story as much as I do, but I’ll give you updates when I have them!

Good luck!

Overwriting: How Do I Cut It Down?

My book is too long! Now what???

Last week, we took a look at how to bulk out a story and add words. We discussed how we can add in subplots or characters, create new scenes we may have glossed over in earlier drafts, show rather than tell, and discuss what may be lacking with our beta readers.

This week, we will address the opposite problem: overwriting. Overwriting is when your word count is higher than your target, and if you plan to query, it’s important to remove the excess so that an agent will take your work seriously (look back to this post if you want a reminder of why word count matters).

Dealing with Deleting

Cutting your work can be hard. So before we even discuss that, let’s talk about overcoming the emotional and mental hurdle of paring down your manuscript.

You may have heard the phrase kill your darlings, and very simply put, that means we shouldn’t hang on to things just because we like them. They need more of a reason to stay.

For me, I find it’s easier to start cutting things out when I spend at least a month away from a work. That way I’m less attached to it. If I don’t wait long enough, lots of useless darlings stay in my work and weigh it down.

However, just because something doesn’t work in your current story doesn’t mean it will never work. You can always copy/paste your darlings into another document to repurpose later. Even if you never come back to it, you can rest assured that your darlings aren’t gone forever…they just moved. And if you decide you want to add them back in, they’re easy to find again.

But often you won’t even be able to notice, and your manuscript will be better for it.

How to find places to trim

Extra subplots and characters

Yup, extra words can lurk in unnecessary subplots and characters. For example, the first few versions of This Cursed Flame included several extra characters: Alem, Cody, and Afya. And none of them made the final cut. Here’s why:

Alem: this was a character substituting for the real antagonist. He chased the main characters around when all along a different character should have had this place. And so I cut him. (Plus, his name was really similar to the big bad, Ahriman. That can be confusing!)

Cody: this one was hard. But this character served no purpose and had no influence on the outcome of the story. He was fluff, there to add drama that the story really didn’t need.

Afya: this was the hardest. I loved her! But ultimately, she had the same issues as Cody. She was redundant to the plot, and combining her with another character served her purpose better.

So you see, characters can be cut or combined with other characters, and sometimes, that’s the way to do it. Make sure every person in the story serves a purpose and influences the final outcome in some way. And if they don’t, or if their presence muddles the plot, do away with them.

And the same can be said for subplots. If it’s doing the same thing (not pulling its emotional weight in the story, for example) or confuses the plot, it may be better to eliminate it.

Scenes

As you go through and read to revise, ask yourself what each scene contributes to the overall story or subplots. Is it moving the story forward? Does it develop relationships or establish the world?

And, can it be combined with another scene to serve the same purpose?

You may find that some of your scenes aren’t pulling their weight (like the subplots I mentioned above), and if that is the case, they might be eliminated. And if there’s something in the scene you really like (a darling), see if you can add it in somewhere else.

THe writing itself

Another place to look is at your writing itself. This level of editing will be smaller in scale, but you’d be surprised how much it can add up! So what should you look for?

  1. Purple prose: any unnecessarily over-the-top descriptions, such as overly flowery explanations of the setting. Your beta readers or critique partners should be able to point this out.
  2. Weak adverbs: look for adverbs and adjectives. While personally I love them, oftentimes they can weaken your writing if you’re not careful (and add lots of unnecessary words!). Check each one. Can you make your sentence or your verbs stronger by eliminating the modifier and replacing the words with something stronger? For example, “very loud” can be changed to something like “cacophonous” or “deafening.” (hint: any time you see a word like very, try replacing it and the words associated with it with a single, strong word)

Ask your readers

While you’re doing all this editing, don’t forget to ask your beta readers and critique partners these same questions. Ask them if any characters, subplots, or scenes feel unnecessary or redundant. Ask them to point out paragraphs or sections that feel weak or purple. Take each comment into account and see what you can change to improve (and trim) the writing.

Ann Dayleview: A Case Study

I have one amazing example of overwriting and trimming to share with you. My friend Ann has a fantastic manuscript with one huge problem: it was over 200,000 words long. As a YA (young adult) fantasy. (reminder: YA fantasy should max out at about 100k words)

So she spent months trimming it down, looking for the places she could tighten her work and improve on the story.

And you know what? She cut it in half. Her manuscript is now under 110k words, which is something she can query an agent. Isn’t that incredible?! If you want to read more about how she did it, check out her blog post here! It’s really worth the read, especially if overwriting is something you’re struggling with.

I also talked to Ann, and she had a couple extra pieces of quick and dirty advice for trimming down a manuscript:

  1. Look for eating and traveling scenes. Often, these have plenty of unnecessary material in them (I’m super guilty of too many food scenes!).
  2. Make sure everything relates to the overall goals. I think this one is pretty self-explanatory.

It’s as simple (and as hard) as that!

Now that we’ve discussed all these points, do any of them speak to you? Have you had experience with drastic manuscript editing? What tips do you have to share for overwriting or underwriting?

Let’s chat in the comments!

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Underwriting: How Do I Write More?

Aaaand we’re back to our regularly-scheduled writing posts! A couple weeks ago, I introduced the topic of word count, underwriting, and overwriting. And I admitted that I am a chronic underwriter. But what I didn’t get into was how I deal with that to get my manuscripts closer to their expected word counts.

Which brings us to today.

There are actually several ways you can bulk up your manuscript, and you’ll find next week that they are similar (if opposite) to the fixes for overwriting!

Now, first a note: word count isn’t something you HAVE to worry about during your first draft. But it is something you should consider before you try to query anyone. During my personal writing process, I write the book with a target word count in mind, plotting the major story beats at certain word counts to keep myself on track. But I usually end up finishing before I hit the final target count. And when I rewrite, I can meet or surpass that goal.

Here’s how.

Look at subplots

One of the things that can affect your word count is the number of subplots you use. Obviously, a story meant to be shorter needs to have only a few subplots, otherwise there just isn’t enough space to address everything.

But if you’re writing an epic novel or anything with more length, there is so, so much you can do. Think of personal, internal struggles. Relationships between characters. A shady past that’s catching up with someone. A mystery that’s plaguing your MC.

You have so many options to add to the story. And these can even relate to your main plot. Just remember that a subplot needs to add value to the story, so avoid adding things just for the sake of adding them. Use them to strengthen relationships or build characters or develop the world.

Think about your characters

Another possibility is to add a character or give one of your side characters scenes from their perspective. But this has the same caveat as adding subplots: make sure it’s adding value to the story. Don’t add in a useless character (I had several useless characters in the first draft of This Cursed Flame…they’re gone now!). And make sure those perspective scenes are meaningful to the plot or subplots.

Add scenes

Look critically at your manuscript. Are there places you didn’t explain enough? Are there scenes you skipped that might actually be fun to show (as long as they – you guessed it! – add value)? These spots can add words to your manuscript in fun and exciting ways.

Show, don’t tell

If you’ve been writing for any amount of time, you’ve probably heard this advice. And honestly, I can be really guilty of this one. I tend to do a lot of explaining, especially in early drafts, because I am fleshing out my world and characters for myself.

Stop it.

Your reader doesn’t need all of that explanation. Sure, a little is fine. But too much is boring. And not much of this should survive editing.

Plus, when you cut the telling and start showing (by adding scenes, inserting more natural inclusions of information, adding dialogue, etc.), you will naturally increase your word count.

Talk to your betas

The last, and sometimes easiest, way to bulk up your word count is to send it to beta readers to get opinions. Then you can see where things may actually be incomplete or confusing, places you may need extra scenes, or subplots you may have left incomplete. In your next draft, you can address these concerns by adding whatever they felt was lacking (if you agree with them…beta readers can be tricky, but that’s a topic for another day).

Final Thoughts

These are some of the simplest ways I’ve found to naturally increase your word count while adding to a story…and trust me, I’ve had to deal with this a lot! But the thing to remember is that you will find ways that work for you, and your ability to hit your target count will likely improve with every book you write, as long as you make a conscious effort to aim for that.

But until next week, when we discuss overwriting and trimming the fat from your manuscript, does anyone else have suggestions for bulking up a word count? What has worked for you? Do you ever worry about this?

Talk to me in the comments!