At the end of December, I finished another round of revisions on the sequel to The Orphan Queen (OQ2 for short). Let’s just say…it’s a big book. The draft I turned in to my editor was, ahem, 135,100 words. Give or take. She asked me to please make it less big. A reasonable request.
As I was writing that draft, I was pretty conscious of its size. I did a lot of editing while drafting to keep the wordcount down, so there wasn’t a lot of extra when I turned it in. Still, I knew she was right: there was room to trim. By the time I finished the first round of editing, the novel was down to 131,000 words. I thought the writing was already pretty tight, but I decided I could cut another 1,000 words for an even 130k, if I really put my mind to it.
So that’s exactly what I did.
I spent a weekend with the goal: trim 1,000 unnecessary words from the manuscript. Here are a few examples of the kinds of things I looked for.
1. Have I used five words where one would do? Combine! Condense! Of course, this can change the meaning of the sentence, so make sure you know what you wanted to say, and what you actually are saying.
Kippy is going to be in bed by ten.
Kippy’s in bed by ten.
She could be a lot of help in pacifying the troublemakers.
She could help pacify the troublemakers.
2. Is that sentence/paragraph necessary to the story? If it doesn’t do something for the plot, reveal something about the character, or expand the world, that sentence can probably go.
I walked past the torches lighting the hall.
I passed torches.
If you’ve established she’s walking through a hall and she can see, it’s unnecessary to repeat that she’s walking, and unnecessary to say that the torches are lighting the hall. What else would torches be doing? And yes, it can be argued that the sentence isn’t necessary as it is. Something more useful would have to be added to make it worth keeping.
3. Clear up the action cluttering your dialogue. A lot of times I add things like “I smoothed back my hair.” or “She leaned on the table and traced the grains in the wood.”
Sometimes those are useful and give the reader a clue about the character’s emotional state. Maybe she’s smoothing her hair because she’s nervous or self conscious. Maybe she’s becoming familiar with the wood grain because she’s avoiding a conversation or thinking up a response.
But more often than not, those get added because it feels like the dialogue needs a pause, and we don’t want to use “I said” again. Or we feel like the character should do something. But those little actions can be distracting. They clutter the dialogue and force the reader to adjust their mental image on a tiny scale that ultimately isn’t adding to the story.
4. Redundancies. I frequently cut instances “I nodded” when the character immediately says “Yes” after, or “I shook my head” when the character says “No.” It’s a small redundancy that’s easy to trim. Similarly, I tend to repeat information (so that I know it) and later have to go back and cut the least interesting instance of it.
Or, the biggie, is that I’ll have my character plan to do something, and then she goes out and does it. It’s always best for me to ditch the planning part and keep the action.
What about you? Any trimming tips?