Wednesday, January 27, 2010

How to cut words from your novel

GASP! That's your first response when your editor says I want you to cut 12,000 words from your novel. Then you start sweating bullets and thinking, "There is no way I can do that. Everything is important."

But is it really?

As the author of said novel it is only natural to feel possessive of every word written. Guess what? That possessiveness is not going to work in your favor.

Here is where I recommend you grab another person to edit your work to get you started. A fresh set of eyes can sometimes pick up on the words you don't need. Tell him or her that the specific editing needed is the chopping of words and scenes. When you get it back, it's your turn to see if what was suggested meets your needs and doesn't change your story. Now you edit it.

Did the mention of chopping scenes make your stomach clench and bile rise in the back of your throat?

Don't worry. It will all work out. There are places in your novel that lend themselves naturally to the cutting process. One of the easiest places that you will probably find all over your novel is taglines. Taglines are those lines at the end of someone speaking such as, "Oh no you don't," she yelled loudly.

That may be an exaggerated tagline but then again, I don't think so. Here is why you want to nix that little tagline. First, you see the word "loudly" sitting there? Kill it. No one wants to read a dreaded "ly" word. Why? Because it SHOWS nothing but TELLS everything. Second, you just said she yelled. Does that not imply loud? Have you ever heard someone yell in a whisper? I think not.

Beyond that little "ly" word, do you need the "she yelled" addition. How many people are in the conversation? Two? Three? If you have written each character in a fashion to be able to tell them apart by how they speak then a tagline is not necessary. If you have multiple people in a conversation then you only need a tagline every few sound bites or when a character first interjects. After that, the reader should be able to distinguish the difference.

In this brief example, we could simply change the sentence to "Oh no you don't!" The fact that someone is yelling is quite obvious by the exclamation point. As long as you have made it obvious that she is the one yelling you should be good to go.

Now onto more ways to cut. Have you ever been told to extinguish PASSIVE VOICE sentences? There are two reasons. One is because they are not action oriented and therefore more telling. The second reason is because they take up more words. Didn't realize that did you? Example of passive voice would be "The suspect was questioned for sixteen hours by Gabe and his partner." Okay, not only is that a mouthful, but blech! How about this instead? "Gabe and his partner questioned the suspect for sixteen hours." We went from 12 words down to 10. It doesn't sound like much but when it comes to cutting, every word or less word counts.

Let's get to the bigger chunks, the place where you cut partial or whole paragraphs, maybe even entire scenes.

GASP! Clutching at your chest in the vicinity of your heart. A little dramatic don't you think?

If you're in the middle of the scene with a couple of girlfriends drinking at a bar and they're naturally talking about men, don't go off topic in the heroine's mind and think about where she grew up UNLESS it is pertinent to how she thinks in that conversation. First, all you did was throw the reader off, but second, you just wasted two or three sentences. Is that information important to the storyline and moving it forward. Is it important at that point in time? Can you show it or do you already show it somewhere else more appropriate? If the answer is yes, then CUT.

Before the girls get to the bar they have to drive there or maybe they walk. Either way, are you showing the reader that walk or ride? Do we need to see it? Does something important happen or are you just drawing a picture of the city lights and the busy street for us until you get to the scene that is of value and moves your story forward at the bar? CHOP! Don't need extraneous words just to fill space. The ride to the bar must go bye-bye.

Lead-ins are nice but if you wrapped up one scene letting us know the girls were meeting at their favorite bar at 6 PM then get to the bar. Keep in mind "page-turner." Why? Because if you drone on giving the reader too much description that has no significance then the reader will be turning the page to get to the good parts. While if you keep the description tight and to the point of the scene then the reader will be turning the page for more, making your story a "page-turner."

I have edited a couple of manuscripts where entire chapters do not have the protagonists or the antagonist in them. Instead, a secondary character who plays a good role is the focus of the chapter. Even though the secondary character is talking about the protagonist and the supposed situation, how is this moving the story forward? Seriously, think about it. You as the writer are talking about (TELLING) what the secondary character thinks about the situation as opposed to having the protagonists showing us what they are thinking or doing. Even if this character is going to be in future books, do you need this chapter with him or her her and now? This chapter must go! Again, I look at that and think the writer was looking for filler.

When you are trying to meet a short word count or asked by your editor to eliminate 12,000 or 20,000 words the key is to keep your mind open and to make sure the words, sentences, paragraphs, or even entire chapters are needed in moving your storyline forward. Action is always better than wordiness. Show the reader and you will be certain that your script is tight and that your editore and readers will be loving your story.



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