WHAT? Did you just read that correctly? Seventy thousand words?
You bet I cut 70,000 words – over several edits, anyway. Here is my WIP’s word count breakdown (from memory, so, not 100% accurate):
- Draft One: 50,000 words
- Draft Two: 155,000 words +105,000
- Draft Three: 105,000 words -50,000
- Draft Four: 135,000 words +30,000
- Draft Five: 110,000 words -20,000
I’m also confident Draft Five could have lost another 5,000 words if I hadn’t gotten so tired of editing and thrown it out the window to my CPs.
So how did I do it? Here’s my advice:
1: Cut Crutch Words
First things first – I went through and cut crutch words. Obviously this doesn’t take care of a significant amount of words on its own, but cutting crutch words also leads to cutting other unnecessary words around them. It’s also worth doing simply because it improves upon the writing itself.
2: Make it a Point with CPs
Most serious authors-in-training have a critique partner (CP) or are part of a writer’s group. Once my word count had become an issue, I simply let my CPs know about it. “Hey, if you ever see anything I can cut, mark it.” For example, you could have them mark places where things seem to go on too long, places where they get bored, and scenes/characters/plot lines they feel are ultimately pointless. Then sharpen your shears and go to town. Again, it’s worth doing this anyway, because ultimately your writing will improve.
3: Analyze, Reduce, and Merge
I recently wrote a post about my version of chapter mapping. You can do this however you like, but the main idea is to go through every single scene/character/plot point and judge whether or not it is carrying its weight or adding enough to the story. Those that don’t are cut. This is the best way to drop the largest chunks of text. For example…
Cut or Merge Scenes. Go through each scene and note what it does. Scenes need to do a multitude of things – teach us about a character, intensify a conflict, shed light on a mystery, and be interesting. If one doesn’t do enough, you won’t miss it being cut – or at worst, you can move the important parts into another scene, and drop whatever words are left. In some cases, this is as simple as making two scenes – which previously happened in two separate places – happen in the same place. This way you drop 500 words of description from one of those scenes.
Cut or Merge Characters. Go through each side character and note how many times they appear and their value to the story. If they’re not valuable enough, either drop them completely or make two characters into one (this can neatly deepen your characters). Cutting characters might be the hardest thing on this list, but remember, you have to be merciless!
Cut Plot Lines. In my WIP, every single character has a backstory – but not all of them need to actually appear in the book. I dropped a lot of words by removing backstory hints and explanations that detracted from the story, and I’m saving them all for the sequels. You can cut all kinds of things like this. Can you make this “mystery” a known fact from the start, without losing all that much? Does this plot line really matter, or is it a vestige from your first draft? Clean it up!
4: Read Poetry
Before running through a cutting edit, sit down with some great poetry and read your face off (preferably free verse). Poets have mastered the technique of saying as much as possible with as little as possible, which is exactly the point of cutting word count. Absorb the masters’ works, and you’ll be better prepared for word-shearing.
5: Motivate Yourself
I use Habitica to give myself experience points every time I cut a thousand words. I post word counts at the top of a chapter and check back once I’m done to see how much I cut from each section. Then I express my excitement about my small successes to my boyfriend, my blog, and my Twitter. Do what works for you – be it a glass of wine for 500 words, a sugary treat for 1000, or a weekend getaway for meeting your full goal.
6: Do a Cutting-Only Edit
Sit down in your chair, open your document, and look at your book with only one thing in mind: cutting. Don’t try to do this in an “overall” edit (in fact, do it after your overall). Do an entire run-through solely for cutting. Your brain will fall into a groove and the words will fall away piece by piece. Be creative: how can those two sentences become one? Be economical: can I speed up this dialogue by dropping lines? Be merciless: does this bit of description really matter? Give yourself an eye for speed and flow and cut anything that chunks up your text. If you’re ever unsure about cutting something, cut it. If you ever want to save a line you love, but know it’s worthless, cut it and paste in another document so you can preserve your peace of mind (trust me – you won’t go back for it). And just keep cutting until you hit the end of the book. And every time you make major changes to the draft, do it again.
And the Best Part Is…
Every single one of these things pulls triple-duty. They will will make your book more marketable by helping it fall into an acceptable size range, they will improve your prose and flow in general, and they will make you a better, more economical writer when it comes time for your next draft!
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