Cutting Words…

I’ve been mentally MIA for the last eight days. Why? I’ve been up to my eyeballs in a fairly significant revision of my manuscript, Where Poppies Bloom. Without getting into all the details, someone recently advised that I cut back the length of my manuscript (originally around 86K), which would, obviously,  pick up the pace. Fifty-ish pages, she recommended. That’s somewhere around 11K words, incase you’re counting.

I’ll admit that it sounded impossible at first. I didn’t think Poppies was dragging. I didn’t think it was wordy or over-written. And my scenes! All the beautiful scenes I’d spent hours planning and writing and editing… some of them were going to have to go. Heartbreaking, I tell you! But, the more I considered it, the more I started to look at this revision opportunity as an interesting sort of challenge.  

So, I copied and pasted the entire 328 page story into a new document and went to work. I figured if I could cut at average of ten useless words per page, I’d be a third of the way to my goal even before chopping full scenes. In an effort to keep myself from becoming completely overwhelmed, I focused on that and dove in.

As I read (and cut), read (and cut), I became very, very critical. Unnecessary dialogue tags were first to go. Next, too-detailed descriptions, then over-expressed emotions. I deleted instances of telling when I’d already shown (I do that sometimes… apparently I worry about being thorough). Finally, I trimmed the beginnings and endings of character conversations in an effort to get to the meat of what was really being said.

When that was all said and done, I took a long, hard look at my scene outline. I figured out which scenes could be deleted entirely (honestly, there weren’t many), which scenes could be combined to streamline the story, and which scenes could become a quick paragraph of exposition. Then I went back to work.

When it was all said and done, I’d trimmed just over 11K words (49 pages) from Where Poppies Bloom. I’m currently three-quarters of the way into a final read through, just to make sure everything still flows, and I have to be honest: I’ve never loved this story as much as I do today. While it was in great shape before, it’s SO clean now. It moves quickly and the suspense is that much greater. I truly believe the revision I once thought was impossible might be the greatest thing to happen to this story, and I’m so glad I took on the challenge.

Care to share your most helpful hints for trimming word count?


19 thoughts on “Cutting Words…

  1. Charli Mac says:

    I have a contemporary love story and it’s at 118,000 as we speak. What I am doing now, which is priceless, is printing out three chapters at a time. Reading it on paper is completely different than on the screen. I trimmed two whole pages.

    I look for the exact things you mention. Extra words, yada. I also learned from a writing buddy to cut prepositional phrases that are not needed. Ex: “The air in her lungs expelled in a whoosh for what he’d done.” For what he’d done can be cut. The reader will know that’s why she lost her breath.

    I may not get it down to 100,000 but I am trying and will at least get it to 110. I hope…

    Thanks for sharing. Now I am back to editing…

  2. jessrlove says:

    Wow that’s awesome!
    I’m a chronic overwriter, so I’m going to remember this when I get to this stage.

    • katyupperman says:

      Oh, I am too. I always worry that things won’t be clear, so I go above and beyond with explaining. Good for the first draft, but yeah… crazy how much you can cut when you have a specific goal in mind.

  3. katharine says:

    Very cool- I am glad you dove into it, and it sounds like it was a good decision. I tend to err on the too low side instead of the too high side… which is equally frustrating.

  4. Rebecca B says:

    I love that feeling, when you realize that cutting words made the story stronger. I have such a hard time making cuts! The only thing that helps me is distance from the MS–if I go back in after a month or two, I find I can cut a lot more.
    Congrats on your revision!

  5. Susan Fields says:

    That’s one reason I love writing short stories with a word limit – it forces me to cut words and shows me how much better my writing is with all those unnecessary words cut out. Sounds like your revision is going great!

  6. Bohemienne says:

    Great work! It is SO hard to trust that your readers will understand what you’re saying, but they will, and they will appreciate you for trusting them. I’m in the middle of a very similar process, and discovering the same thing.

    • katyupperman says:

      You’re so right. My biggest reading pet peeve is books with over-stated emotions and too-wordy descriptions. I do NOT want my books to read that way!

  7. Howlynn Martin says:

    Lol – don’t work for half a day to cut 3 pages then write 4 to replace them – sigh – grin!

    I cut details and eye dancing – — He looked at me with blah blah and I met his eyes an they were yawn fizzle dull as paste -grin I put way to much of it in – and too much yacking too. Take out yes -no questions – fudge them – be oblique – but never just —–Yes (well unless it like a knee bent with a ring sort of question)

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