As writers, we love every single one of those words, so how can we possibly think of taking any out?. We can’t. But we must. Not only do fewer words mean fewer pages (which translates into more profit), but fewer words can also mean—gulp!—a better telling of a much better story.
How does that happen? In several ways.
First, writers often tell readers the same information many times throughout the story. Nothing loses me quicker than to read, for the fifth time, “and if she couldn’t have him, no other woman would.” I got it the first time. Readers are smart. They get it.
Second, some writers love to spell out every nuance of every detail of every object of the setting. And they tell readers in as many ways as their thesaurus or synonym finder can tell them. Readers don’t want to read the amplified version of your story. They don’t need to hear that your tiny, petite, svelte, athletic, feminine, frilly, girly-girl heroine has eyes the color of the azure blue of the Mediterranean Sea where it touches the toe of Greece.
Third, some things are best not said at all, as your mother used to say. Backstory is one example. Do not introduce backstory for at least the first fifty (or so) pages (unless you are writing a novella, and then hold back for at least ten pages).
This is my process for cutting extra words:
- If there are two adjectives, choose the strongest. For example: dark, brown hair => chocolate hair
- Every additional character adds about 10,000 words, so consider combining characters. For example, if you need a fire fighter and a best friend for the heroine, consider a female fire fighter.
- Every additional subplot adds about 20,000 words, so consider cutting a subplot. Maybe there is one that could stand alone, so cut that one. Maybe there is one that introduces additional characters, so cutting that one might also eliminate more words because of the point above.
- Look for redundant phrases: stand up; sit down, shrugged his shoulders, nodded her head, heart pounded in his chest. Since we usually only stand or sit, shrug only our shoulders or nod our head, and our heart is never anywhere but our chest, we can eliminate those extra words.
- Look for intrusive phrases, such as he watched, she heard, he saw, she smelled. Just say what the character watched, saw, heard, smelled, etc.
- Change passive voice to active: in passive voice, the verb is weak and inactive. Instead, change it to a strong, active verb. For example: His shoes were besmirched with gore from the battle => Gore from the battle besmirched his shoes. (You cut two words and made the image more clear)
If you have other examples of how you have cut words, I’d love to heard them. From comments left, we will randomly choose one lucky winner of Nuggets of Writing Gold, a compilation of writing articles, essays, and exercises.
Leeann Betts writes contemporary suspense while her real-life persona, Donna Schlachter, pens historical suspense. She has released four titles in her By the Numbers series, with Broke, Busted, and Disgusted due for release November 2016. In addition, Leeann has written a devotional for accountants, bookkeepers, and financial folk, Counting the Days. With her real-life persona she published a book on writing, Nuggets of Writing Gold, a compilation of essays, articles, and exercises on the craft. She publishes a free quarterly newsletter that includes a book review and articles on writing and books of interest to readers and writers. You can subscribe at www.LeeannBetts.com or follow Leeann at www.AllBettsAreOff.wordpress.com All books are available on Amazon.com in digital and print.