April 11, 2011

Editing - Easy Ways to Cut Word Count and Tighten Writing

If you're like me, you probably end up with a higher word count than is typical for your manuscript's genre. But before you start ripping out entire scenes to the soundtrack of a lonely violin, start with the basics. Simply by cutting adverbs and repeated words/phrases/descriptions, I was able to shave 3k words off my manuscript without even touching the scenes at large. Of course, THEN I addressed my plot as a whole and removed scenes I didn't think were necessary, but my word count was looking pretty good by then.

Easy ways to cut word count:
adverbs - I'm not anti-adverbs. I quite like them. But, in excess, they tend to overpower the narrative. Less is more, and when you use them, make sure they're important to the prose and not just used to cover up lazy writing.

crutch words - Most common I've come across are 'just,' '(a) little,' and 'sort/kind of.' These words and phrases can almost always be cut, and the sentence is usually stronger for it. If you're not sure what your crutch words are, have a beta reader evaluate for you, or read your work carefully and when you notice a word repeated even once or twice, use Word's highlight feature to find all repeated instances of it.

Click ctrl+f to open the Find and Replace box. Enter the word you want to search for and then select 'Reading Highlight > Highlight All.' It will then tell you how many times the word was highlighted and display in your document.

extraneous words - typically words that are redundant and state the obvious

She sat down. or She stood up. - She's not going to sit up or stand down (and if she is, then she's doing something very different).

She touched his face with her hand. - It's a sure bet she's not touching his face with her feet.

She let her mouth curve into a smile. - Shortened to: She smiled. or, if you must, Her mouth curved into a smile.

She took a step back. - Shortened to: She stepped back.

His voice flutters around her, quick and elusive, impossible to track. - Repeating the same thing in a different way.

Now consider this example:

Original: Carl turned to look at his Aunt Sue who'd come to stand beside him, her hand resting on his shoulder. She'd taken off the hat and now she stood in front of him, a small smile curving her mouth, gentle and warm but there was a tinge of sadness on her face, in the crinkles at the corners of her blue eyes.

Edited: His Aunt Sue came to stand beside him, her hand resting on his shoulder. She'd taken off her hat. A small smile curved her mouth, but sadness lingered in the crinkles at the corners of her blue eyes.

The second version is much tighter, but still conveys everything the first version does.

Good luck editing! ♥

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