How to (hopefully) cut 10,000 words

I’ve finished the fourth draft of my WIP, Hooligans in Shining Armour. Fourth draft of the third version written over nearly three years, to be clear. And… I’m about 10,000 words over where I’d like to be.

airplane panic

Yeah.

I’ve also been waging a war on the rather large gardens around my new house, which have been neglected the entire season because baby and work and writing. As I was yanking out another five-foot-tall thistle, it dawned on me. Kind of a perfect simile for my next editing adventure, the weed jungle hiding the beauty underneath. When I started weeding, I wasn’t even sure which were weeds. After some digging (and finding evidence of previously-chopped weeds), internet searching, and consulting with my neighbor, the master gardener, I feel fairly confident I’ve got it mostly figured out. Here’s a pre sample of my gardening adventure.

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So…cutting those 10,000 words. I have a multi-pronged plan of attack, as I did with weeding. I’m going to take a step back, be objective, and ask myself some hard questions. In the end, hopefully I’ll have a more focused, streamlined manuscript where every line has a purpose: to advance plot and/or characterization. It will likely require the killing of several darlings. The good news is, not only will weeding your WIP help with word count, it will help with oh-so-essential pacing as well. I usually look first for scenes and big picture things to cut, then go line by line.

Before I get to work on major WIP weeding, I always save a new version of the document and create another document to save everything I cut, in case I decide later that, yeah, it actually was necessary.

Here’s my plan. 

Step 1: Stop freaking out. It IS possible.

Step 2: THINK THROUGH the main plot and subplots. Ask yourself how subplots are progressing the main plot or driving essential character development. If they are not, consider cutting.  I created a color-coded diagram of both the main plots and subplots for both MCs. This helped me to distance myself and think objectively, as well as see new connections between plot and characters.  

Step 3: List out all the characters and their roles. Ask yourself, what role does each serve for the MC? Are there any characters that duplicate the same role and can be cut?

Step 4: With each scene, potentially with each paragraph, ask yourself, “is it nice or is it necessary?” I’m going to have to ask myself this a lot. I have plenty of scenes that brim with conflict or humor, or both. Are they nice to have and enjoyable for the reader? Probably. But are they serving a unique, essential role in progressing the main plot and/or character development? Are there other scenes that get the same job done? If the answer is yes, then it is just nice to have, not necessary. Start cutting.

Step 5: Now start from the top. Go line by line. Does the reader need all the setting descriptions to picture the scene? Do they need all the body language? Dialogue tags? Or is some of it just nice to have. In dialogue, every line should advance plot or character. If it doesn’t, it’s just nice to have. Cut it. Look for places where you can write more succinctly. Trim the fat. Pull the weeds. Cut any line, any word, that is not essential to establishing new setting, advancing plot or developing character. It’s amazing how much this adds up. Cutting even one hundred words per chapter will add up to thousands.

Step 6: Admire all your hard work, then take some time away from it. Read through your MS again to make sure it still flows and makes sense. Personally, I try to get this read through done relatively quickly to ensure everything flows and connects, which I can lose a sense of if it’s spread out over too many days or sittings.

Step 7: Send to your beta readers.

Oh, and here’s my garden post picture.

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Wish me luck and objectivity! Happy writing.

 

 

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4 comments

  1. Chuck Thurston · July 10, 2016

    What is the current word length of your work and what are you aiming for? What is your rationale for cutting out 10,000 words?

    Like

    • sjoycarlson · July 11, 2016

      Hi Chuck! It’s about 96k… Too high for YA contemporary. In the perfect world, it would be closer to 80k, or even below. When I signed with my agent, it was about 84k, but this complete rewrite got high because it’s a dual POV with independent but semi-connected storylines and I really beefed up each storyline per agent feedback.

      Like

  2. inkstaind13 · July 11, 2016

    Sarah! Nicole here. I loved this post and I wanted you to know that I believe in you 110%! You have an awesome plan and I know you can do it. If you ever need a pick-me-up, need to talk through a scene, need an extra pair of eyes or inspiration from Shawn and Gus, you know where to find me. 😉

    Like

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