Blogger: Rachelle Gardner
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 the need arises to shorten a manuscript. 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 manuscripts simply by eliminating extraneous adverbs, adjectives, gerunds, and passive verbs, i.e. things you don’t need anyway.
(For example, in the previous sentence, I’d cut the words “simply” and “anyway,” and I might even cut “significantly.” The writing is cleaner and I’m down by three words.)
If you cut 12 words per page in a 350-page manuscript, you’ve already shortened it by 4,200 (unnecessary) words. Easy peasy.
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.
→ Redundancy in words or ideas. Don’t say something twice that the reader only needs once.
→ 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.
→ Passages that use a lot of words to “tell” the reader something that should be “shown”
→ Unnecessary backstory.
Here’s a list of words to watch for. Carefully consider their necessity and effectiveness:
about, actually, 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, that, 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.
What are your secrets for reducing word count?
Cut Thousands of Words Without Shedding a Tear. Click to Tweet.
Cutting just 12 words per page reduces the word count of a 350-page MS by 4,200 words. Click to Tweet.
Need to reduce your word count? Here’s a painless way to lose a few thousand. Click to Tweet.