When words don’t add up

I understand word count limitations. I really do. After administering a contest, how could I not? First, you have to be able to do an apples-to-apples comparison, and second, there are still–despite numerous sacrificial offerings consisting of REM cycles, fluffy cotton sheets, and clock parts–only 24 hours in a day.

So here I am, happily thinking I’ve actually managed to create a product to spec. I’ve carefully considered each and every word, sometimes sacrificing the distinctiveness of character voice by removing an “unneeded” adverb here, or an “unnecessary” adjective there, but I’ve come in under my limit and it’s time to move the product to the required submission format.

I write in Scrivener, an excellent product I can’t recommend highly enough. I love it. Take the time to learn to use it, if you haven’t. It’s well worth the effort, just keep in mind it’s NOT a glorified word processor, so don’t treat it as such.

Thing is, Scrivener uses the MacOS text engine to generate the word-count tally. I use the handy Project Target feature and set my word-count limit in advance. Another cool feature is that you can set it up to automatically track session word-counts (across multiple scenes/documents/chapters) and even calculate those targets based on how many days you have left before your deadline. Did I mention it’s a powerful tool? 

And like all tools, it’s great at what it does, and then it has quirks.

Once I transferred  the product from Scrivener to .docx (or .doc or .rtf) format, the word-count tally changed. By a lot. Well, by 95 words. Ninety-five precious words that I had to gut, washing out my character’s voiceyness, her eccentricity, her uniqueness. I watered her down for NOTHING! Grrrr….

Yeah, yeah, I know, if I didn’t butt up against the word count, I wouldn’t have this problem. And I’m working on this, having recently submitted a story that was half the maximum word count. HALF, people. HALF! So, see, I’m making progress.

I’ve run, yet again, into a Mac vs. PC undocumented feature, also known as … a bug. The two operating systems define what makes a word, differently. It comes down to hyphens and apostrophes, and probably some other stuff, and as far as I can tell, there’s no solution for it. The nice tech support people at Literature and Latte (Scrivener’s creators) responded to my question promptly and with great detail.

My main culprit is hyphens. For example, “on the second-hand couch” reads differently than “on the second hand couch.” The hyphen is there for clarity so the reader doesn’t trip over “hand.” Until I’m done, I won’t know how many single- and multiple-hyphen words I’ll have. Yes, I hyphenate multiple words together–Don’t judge me!

Adverbs and adjectives are usually the “easiest” to delete, and I know there’s an anti-adverb contingent out there, complete with a manifesto of words to look for in your writing with an eye toward removing them — things like “just” and “probably” and other quirky words that tag your character and give them some personality so they don’t sound like an automaton that swallowed the CMS.

If you’ve been wondering what I mean by voiceyness, then take a look at all the words in grey. Those are all, technically, unnecessary. Some of them are repetitive. Some are unneeded modifiers. Some are pure, unadulterated opinion. But if you read the post without them, I bet you get a different “feel” for the post and its author. Don’t you?



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