Welcome to another Freelance to Fiction post! In the past weeks, I’ve talked about how freelancing helped me to learn how to be an author, and how it’s helped me to interview my characters. This week I’m sharing my experiences about writing to a word count as a freelancer, and how it’s helped me with pacing in fiction.
As a freelancer, word count was the driver for many of my projects.Magazine articles were held to a strict word count so they would fit on one page, and leave room for advertising. I was paid by the word sometimes, or the page, and one page would be defined as 300-350 words, for example.
Therefore, I developed a very good sense of what I’d need to get me to a certain word count. Conversely, I also developed a good sense for trimming the ‘fat.’ Time, as we all know, is a writer’s best friend, or her worst enemy. When you’ve got several projects that are all due around the same time, you’ve got to prioritize and work smart. Same goes for writing fiction.
Scrivener has a great built in tool that tracks your word count, and allows you to set targets. As I begin work on my third book, I’m developing a feel for trimming the ‘fat.’ Any backstory that brings the story to a crashing halt. Descriptions, as lovely as they may be, must be edited ruthlessly. Also, forcing myself to stay in the present moment. In the almighty words of Dwight Swain, author of Techniques of the Selling Writer, “What’s going on” means precisely that – “What’s happening right now?” Pacing, in simplest terms, can be described as the speed at which the story unfolds. Not only do these techniques improve the pacing of my story, they enable me to work smarter.
I’m also learning how to focus my valuable time on some of the key elements that drive my story. Specifically, I’m focusing more and more on getting into the nitty-gritty with my
characters, especially at the beginning of the process, via an outline. Intuitively, I’ve known that character and plot are tightly interwoven elements; character drives plot, and plot drives character. But as I improve my craft, I’m finding out how to make this work for me. What are the conflicts this character will be a part of? Conversely, what are the character traits that will best lend themselves to these conflicts? It’s a lovely, intricate and fascinating balance of push and pull that adds amazing depth to a story.
As an author, I’m now writing to a deadline, which I faced often as a freelancer. By focusing on these crucial elements of story, I’m working smarter, and directly contributing to the pacing of my story – I know what is motivating my characters, and I’m able to spend my time productively, make each scene count, and move the story forward.
Of course, this is just one aspect of pacing. And that’s not to say I won’t have missteps along the way. That’s when I reach out to critique partners, my editor, my trusty set of craft books. Even then, I accept the missteps as part of my continually evolving journey as a writer. Again, to quote Swain, you have to be “willing to be wrong.”
Let me hear from you – how do you control pacing in your story? Trim the fat? Move your story forward?
Rebecca E. Neely is an author, freelance writer, lover of spoon rings, diners, the Steelers & great reads.