PUTTING OUR BABIES ON A DIET:
or How To Cut The Fat Out Of Your WIP (Part 1 of 2)
By Gina Conroy
When I contracted my novella and had to cut 36,000 words off my WIP, I knew it was going to be hard. In fact, I almost bailed on submitting the anthology because I knew that would mean cutting more than half of my story. The pain of deleting my brilliant prose aside, I knew it would be difficult to edit this mystery whose characters and clues were tightly woven together.
But I signed that contract, took a deep breath, and said a prayer. I could do this!
The first 10,000 words went easily when I realized there were a lot of unnecessary words I could cut. Then I started messing with my characters’ voices and that hurt. So I moved on to the boring, not so important scenes. Found a few of those. Cut out a couple of fun, but unnecessary characters and started the whole process again.
This went on for months until I was down to the last 8,000 words. I wrote to my agent telling him I was having a hard time swallowing this elephant. I couldn’t see how I could cut the last 8,000 words. He very wisely told me that when the ark is sinking, I should throw the elephant out first. In other words, find big chunks I could cut.
Problem was, I did that. Over and over again. Or did I? Sure, I got rid of the easy stuff, then the scenes I could live without, but now 8,000 words shy of my goal I had to take a closer look at my story and go chapter by chapter salvaging the voice and heart of my story as well as cutting the stuff my book could live without. Notice I didn’t say “What I could live without!”
Was it easy? No, but I got my story down to 21,000. Here are some things I learned along the way, so it won’t be so difficult for you next time your baby’s put on a few too many pounds.
Don’t Show Everything
I know it’s been drilled into us to show don’t tell, but a wise author once said that refers primarily to emotions. I learned that I could “tell” how a person got from point A to point D and skip the details in between. Not only will it make your story move, but it will cut the word count.
Cut the Unnecessary Words
You know that word or phrase your character ALWAYS uses all the time JUST like my character DOES. JUST cut it out ALREADY! JUST do a search for those words and CAPITALIZE them, so when you go BACK through you WIP, they jump out at you. I cut several thousand words this way!
Cut the Double Talk
I admit I’m wordy.
Editing this story made me realize I often say the same thing a couple of times in different ways. For example, I might have internal dialogue and external dialogue that say similar things or my character might ask himself a question when it was already expressed in another way in a previous chapter. Not only can it be annoying to the reader, but it slows down the action. Just cut it out, no matter how much you’re in love with all the creative ways you’ve said it.
Come back next Monday for five more recommendations and the continuation of this article
Gina Conroy used to think she knew where her life was headed; now she’s leaning on the Lord to show her the way. She is the founder of Writer…Interrupted where she mentors busy writers and tries to keep things in perspective, knowing God’s timing is perfect, even if she doesn’t agree with it! She is represented by Chip MacGregor of MacGregor Literary, and her first novella, Buried Deception, in the Cherry Blossom Capers Collection, releases from Barbour Publishing in January 2012. On her blog Defying Gravity and twitter she chronicles her triumphs and trials as she pursues her dreams while encouraging her family and others to chase after their own passions. Gina loves to connect with readers, and when she isn’t writing, teaching, or driving kids around, you can find her on Facebook and Twitter.