Saturday, July 6, 2013

Writing Advice: How To Cut Words

Over the last few days, I went through Battle for the Wastelands, cutting words in anticipation of #PitchMas. The manuscript began at 104,000 words (well, 103,946 or something like that, but I'm fairly certain one rounds when one pitches) and I've gotten it down to 100,375 words, which as far as publishers are concerned I can call it 100,000 words. Given how intricately I've plotted this out, I would much rather cut a few words per page and hope they add up rather than make macro cuts of scenes and characters.

So based on my work on Battle, here're some tips on how to do just that:

*Avoid the word "that." Oftentimes it's not needed. In particular "that" and a verb. Instead make it a gerund. Frex, instead of "a box that contained bones," say "a box containing bones."

*Cut the phrase "of them." Instead of saying "the two of them did this" or "the three of them did that," just say "the two did this" or "the three did that." Sometimes "of them" is necessary, but I cut a lot of words purging it.

*In tight third person, saying the POV character "knew" something is redundant. The portion of the story is being told from their perspective, so everything the reader reads they know. There were some situations where it was stylistically appropriate to leave that in, but I still cut some words there.

*Don't present the same information twice, even if realistically this would happen. The reader has already seen it once and that's what really matters. The second time, have something like, "So-and-so told her about such-and-such." The reader will know what you're talking about. This was a much bigger problem in The Cybele Incident, but it did crop up in a much earlier draft of Battle for the Wastelands and I found a bit of it at the end of the current draft of Battle.

*Cut speech tags. If you're describing somebody doing something and then have speech, it means that person is talking. Something like this:

Erin glared at him. "Don't condescend to me!"

Instead of

"Don't condescend to me!" Erin said angrily OR "Don't condescend to me!" Erin spat.

This example doesn't result in a net word loss, but when I applied this policy to Battle, I was able to cut words. This isn't to say speech tags aren't necessary, especially if there are more than two people present, but a lot of times they can be cut if what's going on in the scene gives context clues as to who is speaking.

I hope these suggestions prove useful to you.

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