Tag Archives: cutting word count

Getting Ready for a Showdown with Revision

When you ask writers what their least favorite part of writing is, many will tell you revision. Why? Revision is a necessary part of writing, however it’s something a lot of writers struggle with. It’s time consuming for one, and it can be difficult to spot the flaws within your own work. Not to mention mentally preparing yourself to tear apart everything you just wrote.western_showdown

A good old-fashioned showdown.

Revision can seem like a daunting process. So how do you prepare for it? 

  1. Remember that first drafts are for dumping all your ideas onto the page. First drafts aren’t perfect. Characters, setting, and plot can still evolve afterward. If you had an ending in mind when you began your novel, it might have changed halfway through. Now, you need to go back and foreshadow correctly for the new ending.
  2. Relish in dissecting your story. It’s natural to want to keep to keep your writing, but if the writing doesn’t fit the story, then it’s got to go. One of the great things about computers is that you can save all the different drafts of your story. Just because you make a change doesn’t mean it’s gone forever. But the goal is to improve your story, and if there’s a chapter that doesn’t advance the plot or reveal anything, then it doesn’t serve a purpose other than to add to the word count and so it needs to go.
  3. The story is key. The story is what matters. Story and plot are two separate entities. Plot can change, while the underlying story remains the same. The story is the core issue, while plot equals the events within a story. If your protagonist needs to come across the corpse in chapter two, then be caught by the murderers in chapter seven, then escape in chapter ten, etc. there are many different ways these events can occur. You can change up the entire plot and still have the same story!
  4. Break it down. Revision doesn’t occur all at once. You’ll revise your work multiple times. Decide what aspects of revision you’re going to focus on during each stage of revision. In revision one, you’re likely to focus on the big picture issues, such as plot holes, coherency, the stakes for the characters, etc. Without first looking at the big picture issues, you won’t know if your story will work. The next revision might take a look at each chapter, instead of the story as a whole. The third revision could focus on certain sections of chapters. Eventually, you’ll be looking at grammar and punctuation. By breaking down the revision process, it doesn’t seem like such a mountain.

In the end, the goal is to make the story better, and the only way to accomplish that is through revision.

How do you prepare for the revision process?

(Photo courtesy of CowboyLands.)


Cutting Down Word Count

You’ve dedicated massive amounts of time and worked extremely hard on writing your novel. Now you’re sitting at your desk (or wherever you write) with a complete manuscript. The problem? It’s complete at 120,000 words or 150,000 words or an even larger word count.

Yikes. The chances of getting an agent to read past that immense word count are slim, especially if you’re a debut author. Plus, usually with such a high word count there are extraneous materials within the novel. This leads to working on cutting down the word count during the revision process.

Decreasing a novel’s word count is a headache many writers face. However, too many words can take away from the story.

Cutting down on word count doesn’t have to mean hacking your novel apart nor does it mean taking out entire scenes. What it does mean is getting rid of the words or sentences that aren’t helping your story to move along. Yes, this does include good writing. Sometimes a sentence or a paragraph is fantastically written, but if it does nothing for the story it shouldn’t be in the story.

So, what do you look for?

Telling and Showing. Most writers already know that showing is generally better than telling. But sometimes we include both telling and showing in our novel. There’s rarely a need for that. Trim the redundancy by showing without telling.

Conversation. Spoken dialogue and written dialogue are two different things. When we speak, multiple conversations can occur at once, we use non-words, and we often repeat what we or someone else has said. (Think of all the ums, uhs, likes, and ers that are used when you’re speaking to friends and family.) If this happens in writing, the conversation can stretch on for pages. To make sure this doesn’t happen keep clarity and rhythm in mind when writing dialogue. We want the conversation to flow and for readers to be able to understand us without having to reread a conversation multiple times. Think of written dialogue as an edited version of what we speak.

A second wordiness problem is having the character describe something that readers should have read someplace else. Don’t let your characters be marionettes for the plot. Let them be real, breathing, and believable. People don’t say, “My long, thick, wavy, silvery-blonde hair is sticking to my slender back in this unusually humid, hot weather that is obviously the result of global warming due to big, private, industrial corporations that only care about the bottom line and not the fact that they’re destroying our delicate ecosystems, such as coral reefs and rainforests, for future generations.”

Please don’t do that. Establish the scene first and then only use dialogue if it’s something a person would naturally say in a conversation.

Description. Be careful of detailed description. Many writers attempt to describe every little detail in a room or a park or on a flower. Most of us who try this end up with wordy descriptions that tell us information we don’t need to know or really don’t care to know. For example, saying that a burly guy shoots the protagonist in the chest gives a pretty clear picture of what’s happening. Is it necessary to know that the gun was a SR9c compact pistol that weighs twenty-three ounces?

If the specifics play into the story, then maybe it is necessary. But for most of the time we can be specific enough without drowning the reader in imagery that’s not critical to the story. A few implied words often do the trick. Let your readers fill in the blanks.

In the end…

When you’re facing cutting down word count, remind yourself that it’s about the story, not the words. To help you gain some objectivity, give yourself some distance before starting that revision process. Doing so will give you perspective and help you to keep the core conflict in mind. Subplots are great and all, as long as they don’t overwhelm the main story.

How do you handle decreasing word count?