Culling Those Much-Loved Words
I recently faced the massive problem of having to cull my medieval/contemporary timeslip manuscript by 45K words.
I’d spent over a year writing 140K words, only to be told by the two editors and one agent I pitched to at the RWA conference that it had to be cut to 90-95K words before sending it to them. That was, like, one-third of my story!!!
The good news is, I did it. (Yay me!)
1. First, I looked at choices for removing huge chunks of the story, i.e. take out whole chapters, whole subplots, whole point-of-view characters.
I was able to remove two chapters that, though fascinating from a historical point of view, were not strictly needed to move the plot forward.
Did it hurt? Like being punched in the heart! I loved writing those chapters.
2. Next, I went scene by scene to decide if each one was really necessary. Did it up the stakes, or show character development or move the story forward?
This was tough, but also enlightening. I changed a heap of scene beginnings to start at a later point (while still managing to keep the hooks).
Did it hurt? Heck yeah! I loved writing those scenes.
3. My next task was to examine the dialogue and introspection. Had I repeated conversations, thoughts and actions?
Why, yes, I had...and way too many times.
I ended up cutting and/or combining a ton of each of these. And while I was at it, I noticed some descriptions of characters and settings were worded very similarly, so I did a search for keywords and either deleted or changed the descriptions, shortening them at the same time.
Did it hurt? Did it what! That dialogue was sparkling, those descriptions were captivating!
4. By this time, I was down to removing overused words. Yes, folks, that’s what it came down to.
I’ve been writing long enough to know that really, very, just, that, and so are my favourite filler words, but a run through of each chapter on Autocrit brought up some other interesting overused words (eyes, hands, now- needless to say, more editing required).
Did it hurt? Nope. Those fillers have no place in my writing.
I finally reached my goal of 95K words (after several months’ working on it) but, with all the deletions, I had to check that my plot points still occurred in the right place (to my delight - and amazement - they did) and that my story made sense. (Any beta readers out there who’d like to offer their services?)
Wouldn’t it be great if culling was as simple as deleting words and leaving it at that? Unfortunately, it’s not. But what I’ve learned is that, after so many changes have been made, the most important thing is to ensure your story still hangs together. That there are no loose ends. That your story is still worth telling.
And that the threads of it weave a story that is worthy of its reader, because that’s what we all strive for.
This gif has nothing to do with my post and is totally gratuitous. :)