Writer Wednesday: How to deal with word-count restrictions

Ever read a story that felt too rushed?  I don’t mean those great books that you wished never ended.  I mean the ones where you get to the end and say “what just happened?”  I’ve read some bestselling authors who clearly faced the pressure to get a book in under word count and on time.

Oattes Van Schaik Formerly Limit, The (2) - The Limit

Recently I’ve been working on a few shorter fiction projects, and I’m having to remind myself how to work a short plot line without rushing the pace.  If you’re ever confined by a too-short word count, here are a few things you can do to keep to the limit, whether you’re writing a novel or flash fiction.

1) Keep your writing tight.

Don’t worry about endless poetic descriptions and rambling trains of thought.  Use action and dialogue rather than descriptive prose.  Like I’ve shared before: show, don’t tell.

2) Focus the scope of your story.

Your story should start with the introduction of the main problem and end pretty soon after resolving it.  If you’ve got a long windup to the problem with tons of backstory, scrap it.  If you have a meandering description of happily ever after when the problem is already solved, then consider leaving this part up to the reader’s imagination.

3) Give your characters a time limit.

You’ve got a tight framework, so why should your characters get free rein to mosey through months or years of time?  Think whether you can shrink the time.  This not only gets rid of extra words, it increases the suspense by adding a sense of immediacy.

4) Scrap the limit.

Maybe this isn’t your 5000 word story.  Maybe this is your 10,000 word story.  Some stories need more time to tell.  Don’t try to squeeze a longer story into a shorter box.  Try coming up with a shorter idea instead.


I hope these ideas help you out.  Feel free to add any helpful suggestions in the comments.  🙂

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