Where to Start Cutting Words From Your Novel

The conversion of this blog post and this novel was the motivation for my recent purge of words.

The impressively quick process of cutting gives me great hope and excitement that (once I’ve reviewed my second half well enough to cut it similarly mercilessly) I’ll be in completely “normal” teritory on my word-count.

What neither motivating source gave me, however, was hints or guidelines about where to look to begin cutting.

I’m down over 10,000 words since I started seriously cutting two days ago: setting word-count at 116,486 as I dive into the second half of my story.

Please, no snarky comments about how cheap my work must be to cut so much so quickly.  A big part of being able to do this was

  1. My *blah* over the many-but-unenriching words in Magyk
  2. The familiarity-with-distance that I had from (relatively) recent revision, allowing me to be certain of content without the seductive re-reading that creates the certainty these words must be read by everyone.

So here is my contribution to the discussion, for whatever it’s worth.

Things these last two days have taught me about good words to cut:

  • If the majority of a passage is “character development” or explaining something to the reader, I just need better/clearer writing in a different spot– not 700 words here.
    • Blue will always be blue when you see in in the light– it doesn’t matter how much of it you see.  In the same way, Runa will always present as Runa, as long as I know who she is and present that.
      • She is not the main character, so if her inner life is a little less-explored, I will be forgiven.
  • If the main event of a passage can be explained in a sentence– and that information can be inserted with fewer words elsewhere– that would be a good idea.
    • From my notes:
      • Cut the long conversation on the way back from the first fight (End of scene 42).  Somewhere else need to make clear:
        • Ivan adores Linnea
        • On the strength of his love for her she wrings a promise not to use magic for a time
  • If watching a scene creates more questions (that require more words to answer) about something outside the main action, cutting is a gift to yourself: you are reducing your to-do list.
  • If you see something distinctly outside of your pattern (in my case it was switching POV within a chapter– only four out of 50+ scenes had this) prime material for cutting is before you.
    • By the same rule I am currently prevented from cutting what I feel are a couple weaker scenes, simply because their disappearance would break the rhythm that has been giving structure to the whole up till now.
      • This will probably warrant “professional help.”  Unless my test-readers think more of it that I do.  But I find that hard to imagine.
  • If the result is more important than the process (be honest: sometimes you’re only getting from point A to point B), see if you can just jump-cut to point B.  Trust that your readers (who were just shown how much the character needs to leave point A) will make the leap with you.

These are the reasons behind my current flurry of slicing.  The fact I’ve been forced to fallow the novel several weeks helps too, I’ll admit.

Any more ideas from the audience?  What kind of suggestions can you extrapolate from that book or movie (or mss) that wouldn’t *end*?

4 thoughts on “Where to Start Cutting Words From Your Novel

  1. Fascinating info here. I think it comes down to telling versus showing. If you can show somewhere else something that you are telling here, you might be able to cut stuff out. I think it’s the sign of maturity as an author that you are learning to cut. Awesome job!

  2. We recently watched “The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford,” and though it was a beautiful movie visually, it felt interminably long. One reviewer said, “This is the first time anyone has forced us to WATCH a book on tape.”

    So I’m trying to think where/what they could have cut. They could have started with the title…that’s a mouthful right there!

    The Daily Mirror UK said, “While well-crafted and beginning and ending well, for the most part it’s like waiting for a tumbleweed to blow across an airless prairie.” So true. I think there were far too many dramatic pauses. Long waits between slowly delivered lines of dialogue. Scenes that stretched too long. Repetition of ideas.

    I think pacing might be a good way to find things to cut…does the action of the story bog down in places?

  3. Becky– I’ve spent the last two revisions *adding* breathing room– I’ve had no complaints yet of slow parts (other thna from myself).

    Both men who read my stuff said it never gave them a chance to breathe– and while that sounds good to me, both asked for more breaks.

    (These were generally achieved by adding to description, since the other criticism they had in common was that they didn’t have a defined enough sense of place.)

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