Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Editing: Cutting Down Your Word Count

"It is perfectly okay to write garbage--as long as you edit brilliantly."
-C.J. Cherryh

Today's post was inspired by two things. First, this blog post from literary agent Suzie Townsend on cutting down a too-bloated word count. And second, the fact that I just hit 92,000 words on the first draft of my YA contemporary/adventure novel... that I was planning to keep around 70,000 words. 

During the editing process, I'm going to cut a few subplots, which will help some. But what about the little things that contribute to bloated word counts? They add up faster than you might think.

Here's a list of things to check when you're trying to get your word count down:

1. Redundant phrases, ideas, or thoughts. Example: "He flew forward in his chair." We presumably already know he's sitting in a chair, so the italicized part of the sentence is redundant and could be eliminated.

2. Unnecessary dialogue tags. If it's clear from context who's doing the speaking, you don't need a "he said." It's only two words, but what if you could cut one or two of these from every page? That adds up quickly over a 200-300 page manuscript.

3. Spelling things out for the reader. This goes back to the good old "show, don't tell" adage. If you show a character's fear through his reaction to innocent noises, there's no need to then tell the reader that he's feeling scared. This is an area where most writers can cut ruthlessly.
4. Descriptive words and phrases. Look for adjectives, adverbs, and overlong descriptions of minor characters or settings. Some specific words to watch out for: actually, basically, seemed, just, really. The nice thing is that it's easy to do a word search on modern word processors.

For more strategies on how to cut big chunks of your manuscript's word count, check out these great blog posts:

Lighten Up! Cutting Down Your Word Count from Janice Hardy's Fiction University

1 comment:

  1. To me, it is funny that you posted this today. I just finished two WIPs and will soon be starting the editing phases. You posted some good reminders for me as I go through the process. I too wrote more than I wanted, but luckily for me my word count came out right in the middle for my genre.