How to Cut Thousands of Words Without Shedding a Tear
Strategies for Writers, part 3 of 3
Is your book too long? Does it feel a bit wordy, perhaps slightly bloated?
Or . . . does it feel perfect but it’s a little high in word count?
There comes a time in every writer’s life when they need to reduce their word count. Ack! Not my precious words! Even if your word count is fine, most writers would benefit from tightening up their manuscripts before submission. (I, for one, would appreciate it.) But how do you do this?
Most writers can significantly shorten their manuscript simply by eliminating extraneous adverbs, adjectives, gerunds, and passive verbs, i.e. things you don’t need anyway. If you cut 10 words per page in a 350-page manuscript, you’ve already shortened it by 3,500 (unnecessary) words.
So how do we do this? Here’s a checklist of things to consider cutting:
→ Adverbs, especially those with “ly” endings. Ask yourself if they’re necessary.
→ Adjectives. Often people use two or three when one or none is better.
→ Gerunds. Words that end in “ing.”
→ Passive voice: Over-use of words like “was,” “were” and “that” indicate your writing may be too passive. Reconstruct in active voice.
→ Passages that are overly descriptive.
→ Passages that describe characters’ thoughts and feelings in too much detail (i.e. long sections of narrative or interior monologue).
→ Passages that tell the reader what they already know.
→ Unnecessary backstory.
Here’s a list of words to watch for. Carefully consider their necessity and effectiveness:
about, actually, almost, almost, like, appears, approximately, basically, close to, even, eventually, exactly, finally, just, just then, kind of, nearly, practically, really, seems, simply, somehow, somewhat, sort of, suddenly, truly, utterly, were.
(Make use of the “search and replace” function in Word to help with this process if there are specific words you tend to overuse.)
Once you go through this exercise, you’ll find your manuscript remarkably cleaner. Try to have fun with it!
And remember, no matter how many words you’re able to cut, your editor will always find more.