Give Up The Good ~ Go For The Great
"Don't be afraid to give up the good to go for the great." This quote by John D. Rockefeller is a poignant one for aspiring authors. Simply put, it means don’t be afraid to let go of what may not be working. This is sometimes a difficult concept for aspiring authors and beginning writers. We tend to want to hold on to every word and sentence we create. That can at times be to our book’s detriment. Trust me, some scenes, paragraphs, or words will need to be deleted even though you’re proud of them or love them. If you can learn to let go, I promise you will find that what takes their deleted place may be far greater than you could have imagined or continuing your story without filling their place can result in something much better too. Word counts and be a sneaky magilla. Stick to the word count for your genre.
You love your WIP that’s approximately 8,000 words over the acceptable word count for your genre. I feel you; every word is like your baby. You cannot possibly fathom how you could part with even one word, much less thousands. The task seems insurmountable. But I promise you, it’s not only possible, it’s doable. It may go against your grain at first and you may feel as if you’re betraying your story but imagine facing this challenge and succeeding. Imagine a better and more cohesive story when you’ve completed the mission. Both you and your book will be liberated. If you've completed your first draft, it's time to start pulling the weeds. Prune that word count and edit the hell out of your story.
Pull on your big-girl or guy pants and begin with the basics. Scan your manuscript line by line. Purge busy words, ditch weak words, clear away redundancy, and do away with clichés. (Quick Tips 2) Divest your WIP of dangling participles, toss non sequiturs, and cast out unnecessary prepositions. (Learn More) Scrap generalities and replace them with more specific words. Simple is best, so change any long and winding sentences to shorter ones that relay the same message. (Quick Tips 1)
As hard as it may be, take the next step and delete any sentences, paragraphs, or scenes that don’t move the story forward. While they might be excellent sentences, paragraphs, and scenes, perhaps without them the pace is enhanced. Take a long hard look at the story. Is it still clear without the excised words, yet more concise? Then what you discarded wasn’t necessary. Make the changes. If you really can’t reconcile the delete, delete, delete action, transfer the culprit or culprits to a save for later file.
Scan your narrative for confusing sentences. Anything that seems muddled warrants an adjustment. Read it out loud. If it sounds unclear to you, how do you think readers will feel about it? Dump it or fix it while keeping it simple. (Learn More)
Examine every piece of dialogue in your WIP. Is every bit of dialogue necessary? It’s time to slice a dice. Dialogue should be kept short and sweet unless there’s an explanation about something that requires a soliloquy. Chuck extra dialogue and tags. Replace with specific actions. Remember, show don’t tell.
Jane was sad to hear the bad news. She began to cry. Soon her cheek was wet with tears. “That’s heartbreaking,” she said.
Jane’s bottom lip quivered upon hearing the bad news. A tear escaped, wetting her cheek. “This is heartbreaking.”
18 words - I scrapped 5 words. Imagine doing this to all of the dialogue throughout your WIP.
When you’ve exhausted all of the above tactics to rid your book of extra words, you may want to consider deleting a character. No, not a main character, but one with less significance. Suppose your protagonist hangs with four friends. Well, that’s four times the dialogue and possibly four times the added prose. Ask yourself this question. Will your story work with three friends or two? If your answer is yes, then sorry, girlfriend, it’s time to flat-leave one of your best buds. Are you still over the word count? Gah! Okay, this may seem harsh, but does your protagonist have any kids? If she has two, cut it down to one. That’s less dialogue and less prose. Boom!
Do any scenes in your manuscript involve your protagonist facing multiple bullies? Here's another tried and true method for throwing out those pesky words. Narrow the bully scope to one main meanie and a few peripheral tormenters who stay in the background uttering one or two words a piece.
Does your novel contain physical fight scenes? Strive for authenticity but don’t overdo it with specific fighting mechanics. A few are okay, too many are too much. Remember, unless your readers are MMA fighters, they won’t care about specific moves. Throw in a couple of right crosses, a jab, and a hook punch and you’re good to go. Don't forget hair-pulling, spitting, and kicking.
Any romance writers out there? Here’s my take on sex scenes. Unless you’re writing erotica, sometimes less is more. Think about cutting down on the sexually explicit acts and the anatomically correct or slang body parts. This will free up a lot of words. Instead, turn up the heat with sophisticated language, sensual and sensory details, emotions, and facial expressions. Go for the slow burn, but keep it succinct, while maintaining the intrigue, sexual tension, sultry passion, and steamy climax.
What other ways can you come up with to trim your WIP? Drop a comment below!