I will thank the Lord with all my heart as I meet with his godly people. How amazing are the deeds of the Lord! All who delight in him should ponder them. Psalm 111:1-2 NLT

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

How to Cut 30,000 Words from your Story

by Patricia Bradley

Are your words written in stone? Each one precious and agonized over? Your little darlings? What would it take for you to cut five thousand of them out of your manuscript? Ten thousand? Thirty thousand?
Photo from Printmaster

No way, you say. Well, what if there was a good chance of getting it published in the smaller version? Would that entice you?

That's exactly what happened with my first book. After I cut those 30,000 words, I received a contract offer for it...and as God would have it, I also received an offer for the bigger version. 

I learned so much cutting those words, though, and a lot of the shorter version ended up in the longer version because the writing was so much tighter...and better!

I've been asked how I cut those 30,000 words, and I've always replied it was a lot like going on a diet. Very. Painful. 

First, I cut a Point of View. I didn't cut the character, I just took out everything that was in his POV. That gave me 15,000 words right off the bat. 

Of course, I added a few of those words back getting the information into the story that this character had revealed. But I netted at least 13,000 words.

Once I had that cleaned up, I went sentence by sentence, seeing if the sentence could be rewritten tighter, or taken out all together. I discovered I sometimes explained things more than once, often more than twice. You guessed--SNIP.

I also looked at passive wording and weak verbs. Both use more words. When I made the sentence stronger, often by using a stronger verb, I gained words. Here's an example:

 She looked at him from the top of his head to his feet, barely noticing that he had on  jeans and a plaid shirt over those broad shoulders...became: Her gaze flicked over him, barely registering the broad shoulders, plaid shirt, and jeans = 28 vs 14. I did that over and over and the words mounted up.   

Here's an example from this blog: The first thing I did was to... Ended up: First, I cut... (See how it works.) 

I also did a search for weasel words and -ly adverbs to see if they were needed. Ninety-nine percent of them were not. Here are a few weasel words I seem to love: seem, just, that, suddenly, ever, some, almost, but, simply...there are more, I'm sure.

And that's how I cut 30,000 words. And remember, if you cut ten words per page and your page count is 400 pages, that's 4,000 words right there. 

Leave a comment and tell me your favorite weasel words. Oh, and I'd like to know how many of you would be willing to kill your little darlings...

15 comments:

  1. Great post. I just reworked my 1st 3 chaps. and cut 1,000 words--that tells you something, and I can probably afford to get more ruthless still. I'm more actively realizing that fewer but well-chosen words increases impact--bam! So I'll be working on that--and keeping your thoughts for good reference.

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  2. Great job, Dee! So agree that fewer but well-chosen words increases impact--bam...

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  3. Love all this info on tighter writing! Thanks so much, Pat!

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  4. Thanks for dropping in, Roxanne!

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  5. With my last book, I had to go the opposite direction and add in words. But I was also going through a very difficult time in my life. I love your advice, though, Pat. Very wise and it creates tighter writing!

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    1. Lisa that's where I usually am--having to add more words to the first draft as I flesh it out. I'll probably write about that next month. It's a whole 'nuther ballgame!

      It's hard to write when your personal world falls apart, but thankfully we have a God who gives us comfort and strength.

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  6. With your encouragement, Pat, I managed to cut 25,000 words this weekend. I had to put on my red-capped editorial hat and tell myself just-do-it. Know what? I like it. Let's just hope an editor will love it :)

    And here's the thing too--I caught myself with my brain fogging up and "say-what?" slipping from my mouth and I sure wouldn't want a reader or pub agreeing.

    Just gotta be brutal!

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    1. I am so proud of you, Elaine!! YAYAY It's a hard job.

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  7. This is excellent guidance. I'm looking forward to your post on adding words!

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    1. Thanks Renee. That's exactly what I'll be doing as I add 15,000 words to the 4th book in the Logan Point seres this week. :-)

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  8. Great suggestions; thanks for sharing! The idea of cutting an entire POV is scary, but as you've proven, it was apparently just the change your story needed!

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  9. I conduct a search and destroy on these weasel words: had, looked, just, up, down, both, back, over, etc. I also weed out felt, seems, noticed, wondered, observed, perceived, wished, related, felt (and other such words). There's not exactly wrong with that last group but usually it's stronger if you do not filter the scene through the consciousness of the POV character. For instance, instead of writing, "she wondered if he would ever learn", write "would he ever learn?" Loved the post, Pat!

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  10. Great weasel words, Teri!! I'm going to print them out.

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