|photo by katerha via flickr|
Assuming you've already looked at the macro issues, evaluating every scene to be sure it's needful to tell the story, and you've cut out every scene that isn't, but still need to bring that word count down... here's how I go about it:
To start with, there are ways to "see" your manuscript with fresh and objective eyes. The following are the best ways I've found to spot words, phrases, sentences, and paragraphs that aren't contributing enough to the story to justify their inclusion.
~ Take time away from the manuscript to let it cool off. Weeks. Months, if possible.
~ Convert the manuscript into a different font, so the paragraphs and lines are arranged differently than you're used to seeing.
~ If you use Word, try viewing the manuscript in Full Screen Reading mode. It allows you to view two pages on the screen at once. It also changes the length of lines and thus the page arrangement.
|photo by abbybatchelder via flickr creative commons|
Next, read the manuscript slowly, evaluating every word, every phrase, every sentence, every paragraph.
Cut out needless adverbs, adjectives.
Trim back large chunks of description. I know a writer who never uses more than two consecutive sentences of pure description in a row. Not a bad rule of thumb.
Trim back long sequences of introspection wherever possible.
See if a scene can begin a few sentences later than it does. Or end a few sentences earlier. I'm always surprised, even after several edits of a story, that this is still the case in some of my scenes.
Cut out chit-chat from dialogue exchanges. And cut out any needless rambling. Let the characters get to the point as soon as possible.
Search and destroy clutter words. Cut as many occurrences of that, but, and, just, very, quite, rather, had been, and any other unnecessary words you are prone to using as possible (those listed are mine). I also do a search for "of the" which is a highly overused phrase for me and can usually be replaced. Example: the cover of the book can be changed to the book's cover. There. Two words saved. It may not seem like much, but edit out "of the" often enough and it adds up. The only time I leave "of the" now is when changing it would ruin the rhythm of the sentence or obscure its meaning.
Which brings me to my second step after I've gone through the entire manuscript reading it silently, cutting out as many words and sentences as possible:
Read the manuscript again, this time aloud. This is a crucial, if tiring, step in my editing process. Not only will you catch misspellings your eyes have skimmed over, you'll catch bumps in rhythm, awkward phrasing, and more unnecessary words, phrases, and sentences that can go to the cuts file.
You do keep a cuts file? :) I never send anything into the ether that's longer than a phrase. You never know (she says optimistically) when that metaphor or poetic imagery or quippy bit of dialogue might be useful elsewhere.
|photo by muffet via flickr|
Hope these tools for trimming back prose prove helpful!
Do you have other tips for cinching up a story belt? Please share them in the comments section.