In her most recent contribution to her Write Better Fiction series, Kristina Stanley demonstrates a technique for using word counts to aid her creative process. For each of the scenes within her novel’s chapter, Kristina calculates the number of words and inputs that data into a spreadsheet, and generates a graph. As an IT professional, I’m intrigued by her innovative data-driven approach, despite the apprehensions of my more linguistic instincts regarding this data.
As I’ve observed previously, word count by itself is a horrible metric for gauging successful writing — as words go, two good are more than five times powerful than ten bad. Reaching a certain number of words neither means you’ve won, or you’ve reached your limit. However, I see value in Kristina’s approach because she uses her data not to set rules for herself, but rather to identify trends in her writing, and then uses what she identifies to ask herself questions:
The first scene is only 50 words long . . . In this case, am I trying to create an effect of shock, or fast pace, or intrigue?
This chapter only has two scenes where every other chapter in the novel has three scenes. Was this done on purpose?
This scene is 2500 words long. The graph shows you it’s out of balance with the other scenes in the novel . . . In this case, I must ask what is so special about this scene. If nothing, then I’ll consider breaking the scene into two or more scenes.
Data leading to analysis, producing questions that generate answers, resulting in decisions. That, my friends, is an example of how a data-driven approach can be useful in the writing process.