Thursday, July 14, 2011

Economy of Words and Making Each Word Count

Week of July 10: Author Study—Mem Fox
Thursday, July 14—Economy of Words and Making Each Word Count

DO keep the text under 500 words if possible. Minimize description. The fewer words the better, since the pictures will provide many of the visual details in the story.


Last week I went on an oh-woe-is–me pity party about the diminishing word counts in picture books. Then I ran into the quote above. I know Mem’s Dos and Don’ts have been on her website for years, this is not new info. However, the trend in diminishing word counts has really occurred over the last couple of years. So I started to wonder just how many words Mem has been using in her books all these years. I found the following in the books I’ve studied.

Wilfrid Gordon McDonald Partridge (1984)—649 words
Night Noises (1989)—336 words
Tough Boris (1994)—68 words
Wombat Divine (1995)—397 words
Sleepy Bears (1999)—555 words
The Magic Hat (2002)—298 words
A Particular Cow (2006)—112 words

When I look at Mem’s books I see strong, meaningful stories. Wonderful word choice, writing crafts, and just the right amount of details fill each story. Virtually from the beginning of her career (when picture books were often much longer) she has been writing around 500 words per book. Actually, the books I studied have an average word count of 345 words per book. But the length of each book varies, based on the demands of each story.

So what’s the bottom line? If I want to have the same longevity of Mem Fox, then word count shouldn’t be an issue. I need to learn to choose the just-right words and eliminate everything else. If I want to write books that rise to the same level of quality as Mem Fox’s (or even come close), I need to work on my word count. If Mem doesn’t need all those extra words, why do I?

It’s Your Turn!
1. I challenge you to find other Mem Fox titles and count the words (or use one of those fancy online programs that tells you word counts in books). You’ll be amazed. You’ll be challenged. You’ll be inspired.

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