Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Chop Chop

I've revised my novel, and now it's in the hands of a talented beta reader who will rewrite it to perfection. No? That's not what they do? Shoot.

From first draft through fourth, I cut 18,000 words. Believe me, those words needed to go. When it comes to slicing and dicing a manuscript, here are some lesson I've learned:
  • Like Hitchcock said, "A good story is life with the dull parts taken out." If I reached a spot in my manuscript that I wanted to skim over, I deleted it.
  • If a scene added nothing to the story, I deleted it.
  • Each character must serve a purpose. James Scott Bell reminds us that supporting characters should be there as allies or irritants to the MC. If not, bye bye. It's also possible to combine characters.
  • Don't say, "She watched him race toward her" when we can say, "He raced toward her." We know we're seeing it through the narrator's eyes. Tough lesson for me.
  • Use strong verbs to cut down word count and strengthen the story. "He was running" becomes "He ran."
  • Keep description to a minimum. I love pretty words describing pretty scenes, but sometimes I get carried away.
  • Don't bang the reader over the head with a point. I'm guilty of this, and don't even notice it sometimes. (Thank you, critique group)
Trimming fat improves pacing. When cutting words, Roz Morris says we must tune in to the rhythm of our story. Slicing and dicing isn't always easy, but it'll make the remaining words more powerful.

Can you add something to the list? What do you slice and dice from your manuscripts?


47 comments:

  1. After all is sliced and diced, a good editor will still find more sacred cows that must be sacrificed. I love my editor. That second set of eyes is vital. Good luck on your editing and have a great week!

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  2. Good job cutting the fat. Keep up the great work. Happy rewrites :-)

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  3. I'm a clutterbug in general. I just know whatever I throw away or donate to charity will be the one thing I will want later, but when it comes to writing my finger hits delete without hesitation. There are so many things that can be cut that make our writing tighter. It just takes a bit of time away so we can really see it, I think. Good post. Good luck editing.

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  4. I'm with you on the pretty words describing pretty scenes! But you're right that a lot of it is unnecessary. Sigh.

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  5. Crap, I usually have to do the opposite - add ingredients!

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  6. I've been slicing and dicing too. I read my chapters out loud. This helps me hear what needs to go.

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  7. Great list. I've learned to delete things I'm working too hard on to explain. For me, simplify.

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  8. I just sliced 2,000 words from my wordcount, most of which were "that" and passive phrases. Now I have to get rid of about 19k in unneeded scenes and more unneeded words, and then I'll be almost done. (not like it's that much work or anything, lol.)Congrats on consolidating your story.

    <3 Gina Blechman

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  9. I always end up cutting repetitive thoughts - again banging my reader over the head with info they already know or I shouldn't be telling them. that's my biggest thing I watch for during revisions! Sounds like you're in a good place!

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  10. oh cutting LOL. I get a bit agressive sometimes, but recently I just added about 20k in a whole new venture of my MS. I have tried purposefully to change all "he watched" He heard" etc like you said. It makes a different but can be hard in the moment

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  11. Yep. I like to know any and all areas my beta readers are bored. And then I hack them. It hurts at first, but I never miss them once they're gone. Why are we so glued to our words???

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  12. I hear ya. Just shaved over 10K off of a book and found it to be better...never would have guessed that one. Great tips.

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  13. As a picture book writer, my last pass through an ms is to cut every single unnecessary/extraneous words. I usually do this about 4 times to make sure I've chopped them all!

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  14. I read mine out loud to hear how it sounds. That enables me to cut or edit quite a bit to make it flow better.
    Karen

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  15. I love slicing and dicing! It's a huge part of the fun for me. I do searches for words that I know I overuse such as suddenly, actually, that, and though. It helps a lot!

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  16. I don/t specially love the cutting and dicing but my CP tells me too! And I listen to her!

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  17. I'm especially guilty of #s 4 and 5, but I do love unearthing them and rooting them out.

    Another way I slice and dice is by shortening, or eliminating, transition scenes. We don't have to see a character walk down the hall, get into the car, leave the house and shut the door behind her, drive across town, etc. Like in the movies, just begin when she arrives.

    Good luck with the latest draft!

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  18. Julie,
    I think I have a difficult time with this process...I want to 'SAVE' everything; you know, it might be applicable later!
    Good post and so user-friendly!

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  19. WOW- sounds like a great process and a very effective edit. Woot!!!

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  20. LOL, seriously, LOL! Because I so with that first paragraph was true--I want things to work like that!
    I'm revising too, and...well saying that is kind of lie. My agent just send revision notes and I haven't started yet. (EEK!)

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  21. I wish we had pull down menus for all these great "snipping" categories.

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  22. I do the redundancy thing all the time. Say the same thing in two different ways - one right after the other. I spend an entire round of edits slashing and burning just those!

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  23. I find the "She watched him race toward her" problem in my manuscripts more than I'd like to admit. When I'm in doubt about a word, I try reading it without that word and it almost always sounds better.

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  24. I agree that trimming fat improves pacing! Great post!

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  25. OMG You mean I can't just ask you to do it?? Man! Now I have to go work on it some more... Great list!!!

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  26. Oh man... I hear you.. I'm doing some MAJOr cutting right now. I seriously overuse my words... good luck with your revisions! :)

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  27. Julie..after reading this post, I need to get little more harsh with my manuscript. Thanks for alerting me to my mistakes. I don't need to trim the fat I need to burn it.

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  28. I love the chef you chose for your graphic. :)

    I'm editing, editing, editing, so it was good to read through your list! Helps me keep focused.

    Thanks!
    Amy

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  29. Great list. I'm busy cutting repetitive words and dull phrases.

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  30. Good list Julie. This is a hard for me. Chopping and removing unnecessary words - especially when my eyes just don't identify them to begin with LOL. Happy Wednesday:)

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  31. I'm in the middle of revising (and slicing and dicing) the first Act of my story. It's too long. Period. But as I'm going along, I've realized it's not just all the great points you've mentioned but also the level of tension. If there's a tension filled scene, more words can be spent on it, and it won't seem to drag. A scene with sightseeing can barely spare a dozen words strung together without being dull.

    Great post! :)

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  32. Great lessons! I'm glad you've got some good helpers to point out the spots! I also do some qualifying "it seemed" or "it looked" but I am trying to weed those out, too. Difficult line between what the MC can know and what they guess (need to show what they see that leads to the conclusion, to the 'he thought (conclusion)'... tricky stuff...

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  33. I'm with you on the slicing and dicing. There's nothing like taking a big, old chef's knife to a story and making it a lean, mean story machine!

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  34. Argh yes, the slicing and dicing. But I really LIKE parts of my novel. Sniff. I did have to combine two characters early on in my latest novel. The # of characters I was introducing was staggering. LOL

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  35. Oh yes, it's painful to get rid of parts I really like after I realize they're not adding anything. Of course, I hope I can use those bits in another novel later on. It takes determination to hit that delete button. Good on you.

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  36. Nice post... sounds like you covered the key points.

    thx

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  37. Oh my gosh, I know. Sometimes I'm faced with a scene that overwhelms and stresses me. And then I realize I can cut it, and the weight lifts. Sometimes it's freeing!

    Best to you. Love your blog!

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  38. Oh, strong verbs, you are my downfall. My readers so far have essentially said 'I love it! The jokes are funny! You have no strong verbs at all!'. So, back to work on that one!

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  39. Great tips! I'm not at the editing stage but I'll keep these in mind. If I know these things now, maybe I won't have to cut as much later? We'll see!

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  40. I'll bet your ms. is so much better! That's what wrong with a lot of manuscripts-- they're just too dang wordy.

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  41. Yay! You're done revising! Woo-hoo! I watch out for so many things, but I still miss some. I always do a Find/Replace on my repeat offenders!

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  42. I fall more on the "beefer upper" side of the equation. I tend to underwrite and then I have to go back and add more. For instance, in my current MS, it's gone from 60K to 70K in revisions. And I think it's better for it.

    Hooray to you for revisions! Awesome accomplishment~ :o) <3

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  43. I can't wait till I'm ready to send my work to a beta-reader!

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  44. Passive = DELETE! Adverbs = DELETE! Unnecessary description = DELETE! Oh wait, now I don't have any description left at all... REWRITE!

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  45. I don't have anything to add...but thanks for the tips..

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  46. Really good tips, Julie! My newest tip (via my agent and my, um, agent revisions) go easy on the name-calling. In other words, it's less annoying to use pronouns (he, she, etc) than overuse the character names. As long as you know who you're talking about. :) I never realized how much I overuse my MC's name. A lot.

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