Man vs Bookshelf

Man vs Bookshelf: Word Count & The Good Guy

This entry is part 59 of 104 in the series Man vs Bookshelf

It feels as though my blog writing game has been well off recently.

Asked to guess, I would probably say I had not written more than one a week in the last five weeks, but this cannot be so. They come out every five days, and I’m still three weeks ahead of schedule.

But I’ve not been as far ahead as I was at my peak, as demonstrated by the fact I’ve been working on an eight-book backlog for over a month now.

Look back to late last year and you’ll find me moaning about a three-book backlog. That shows you how much things have changed.

As such, it’s worth noting this is the second blog I’m writing in two days. Feels weird that, to be getting this one down so soon after writing whatever the hell it was I did yesterday.

Oh yes, Soccernomics.

Given the short time between finishing that and starting this, you might think I’d have nothing to say beyond the book. After all, I used my Soccernomics book space to talk about the stress of selling my flat and buying a house. Of trying to edit two chapters of my novel a day and falling further and further behind.

You probably think I cannot possibly have anything further to say.

You’re probably hoping I don’t.

But I do.

See, in between, finishing my Soccernomics blog and writing this The Good Guy one, I have finished my days editing on the upcoming novel – The Black Sheep’s Shadow.

This particular draft has been unusual. Usually, when redrafting I can’t write five words without coming to the startling and overpowering realisation that what I’ve created is a massive pile of shit. An insult to the field of fiction. I become sure the book will sell one copy, but that copy will be relentlessly passed around on buses, in offices and up towers just so everyone can have a good laugh at how bad it is.

Not so with this draft.

Sure, it got off to a bad start. I printed it out and wrote a whole load of notes I have since ignored. Then I began editing from the back only to realise I hadn’t done any of it properly and these edits too would have to be ignored.

Then, I got into this latest draft, and things started going well.

I would edit a chapter properly, with care and precision, then read over the last three chapters and edit those, each time moving up a chapter, then back over the last three, so each chapter gets edited four times.

I was pleased with how things were going. I was doing it properly, and it was all coming up Milhouse.

Then, today, out of nowhere, the doubts returned with a vengeance.

And it has to with that bastard word count.

Like many writers, I have long struggled with word count.

The issue is not getting it to be long enough or short enough, but precisely not worrying about either of these things. Realising it doesn’t need to be a certain length – it just needs to be the right length for the story.

I thought I had the word count fear under control. My first draft of The Black Sheep’s Shadow was horribly bloated – around 114,000 words, I think. I knew this was too long, but that didn’t matter. First drafts are always bloated.

The next draft brought it down to 96,000. Still too long, but that was okay. The story was mostly right now. I knew in the next draft I’d be tightening things up. I felt confident I would be cutting another few thousand words and, seeing as I felt the optimum length for a mystery novel such as this was between 80,000 and 90,000 words, I felt good.

Onto the current draft – as mentioned we survived a poor paper edit and a pointless back to front edit before doing it properly.

As discussed, I’m happy with how the editing is going, but what I wasn’t expecting was the total slaying of the word count.

Come the end of chapter 12 on the previous edit I was at 49,591 words.

This time around, I’m at 37,036.

That’s a massive reduction of over 12,000 words.

If I go on to cut at a rate of 1,000 words a chapter, that means I stand to lose a further, by the projected end of the book at chapter 28, 16,000 words, which could well leave me in the 60,000 – 70,000 bracket.

It was this realisation that knocked me this morning because it doesn’t matter how often I tell myself the story will be as long as the story needs to be, that just doesn’t feel long enough.

It’s in a territory where I worry that even if it feels right to me, it will seem lacking to an audience, and I know agents will be instantly put off by such a count.

But what can I do? I’m trying to write the best story I can, so going back and adding bits just to up the word count would be the worst solution. It would dilute the book and I can’t stand the idea of that.

So, I have no choice. I have to believe in the story I have been enjoying so far. I have to push on and hope that it comes out good, and if that means it’s a little shorter than hoped so be it.

The plan is to finish this draft by the end of the first week of September, and at that point, it’s going to beta readers. My hope is they come back to me and either say, it’s too short, and give me ideas for where it needs adding to, or they think it’s long enough.

I just have to try and not stress on it for now.

Yeah, good luck on that, right?

The Good Guy

To distract myself, let’s talk about Dean Koonz’s book, The Good Guy.

I could talk about myself and the author, as I have in the past, but if I was going to do that for Dean Koonz, I would already have done it, in my Odd Thomas.

I may well have written just such a section, I really can’t remember. You should check it out just in case.

Speaking of things I can’t remember, I’ve no idea when I bought this book (as per usual) but I know I never read more than the first couple of pages.

In fact, given how good this book is, right from the proverbial get-go, I can’t believe I read even that.


Despite the fact I am prone to give up on books early, this is usually not because it doesn’t grip me right away. I just get distracted, or something new comes along, be that another book, a TV show, or a new Football Manager save.

In fact, if I have a mind to read something, there are few slow beginnings I cannot get past.

The first Lord of the Rings book was a rare exception. Christ that’s hard going.

However, a slow book will often affect the pace I read at. While if I find a fast-paced book – such as those by Harlan Coben – I will often race through them in a day or so, time permitting.

I wish I had given The Good Guy a chance when I first got it because it’s brilliant.

This is largely down to the pace, which you may be able to guess from the heading of this section is breakneck.

The chapters are short and there are some sixty-odd in total.

From the inciting incident at the beginning, Dean Koontz allows the story to race along.

I spoke in my Odd Thomas review about how much I loved the way the story had no real breaks – it was all set over a few hours and this kept the pace up at all times.

The Good Guy is pretty much the same. It’s one big game of cat and mouse that begins with a case of mistaken identity and doesn’t let up until the showdown between said cat and said mouse right at the end.

I hate using this word because no such thing exists, but this book was as close as one gets to being unputdownable.


The story centres around a case of mistaken identity, in which our unsuspecting main character is taken as first an assassin and then the client of the assassin.

With nothing but a picture of the intended target to go on, as well as her address, Tim, our lead, goes to the target – Linda – and helps her run from the killer.

The remainder of the novel, hinted to above, is Tim and Linda trying to escape the assassin.

It’s as simple as that, and it’s brilliant for that.

It’s an enthralling tale, without complications.


The breakneck pace and enthralling story may well have been enough alone, but this story is taken from great to brilliant by an outstanding cast of characters.

Everyone is funny, which is obviously not reflective of real life, but that’s okay.

Tim is the perfect lead. He is the titular Good Guy but he’s also great in a tough spot, and he’s clever when it comes to getaways and setting traps.

Linda is the stories token writer. She is smart and switched on does not feel like a damsel to Tim’s knight.

Beyond Linda a few friends help Tim out, each one interesting and exciting in their own way, from his bartender mate to the cop he knows, to his own mother.

And on the dark side, we have the killer. As funny as the good guys he gets plenty of his own chapters and is worth every one.

Obviously, he is a bastard. But he’s also charismatic and quirky and interesting. He murders people both for a living and for fun but, other than, he feels like someone you could really get on with.


Too many books – Stephen King is prone to falling in this trap – suffer from weak endings after excellent beginnings.

The Good Guy ending is a mixed bag.

What you might call the true ending, is brilliant. The final showdown between Tim and the killer is tense, well told, and perfectly handled.

The problem is you then go into the mystery of why he was sent to kill Linda in the first place.

This wasn’t such a great reveal and I found the last couple of chapters tapered off a bit.

Usually, I hate it when stories are left unresolved but, in this case, I think if it could have ended with Tim and the killer’s showdown, I would have been okay with that.


Sub-standard reveal aside, this is a contender for one of my favourite books of all time. It’s well told with a great pace and engaging story all the way through, all carried by one of the best cast of characters I’ve ever seen.

Dean Koontz is an exceptional writer and, soon as I’m out of this bloody challenge, I hope to pick up a few more of his books, and give them a go.


After a fair few stand-alone books in a row, next up we’ll be heading into another series.

This one written for a young adult audience and with proper themes and that.

You know, an obvious message about our shitty society.

You guessed it, it’s Noughts and Crosses by Malorie Blackman.

Series Navigation<< Man vs Bookshelf: A Spot of BotherMan vs Bookshelf: Amazon Recommendations and Noughts and Crosses >>
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International worst-selling author Mark Ayre has been writing since before he could pick up a pen (somehow). An author of mystery and suspense novels including the James Perry Series of mysteries.

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