Rewriting: Cutting Excess Verbage

Excess WordsNo manuscript is perfect with the first draft.  Somehow, we never manage to get the story down the first time.  With each rewrite it gets better and better.  Often it also gets longer and longer.

I have to admit it — I tend to write short.  Too short.  When my critique buddies go over a manuscript they mark numerous places that require transitions, details and just a bit more.  By the time I’ve accomplished all of this the words have added up and I need to cut.  One writing buddy, Darcy Pattison, advocates cutting 30% of your total word count.  While I very seldom manage to cut almost 1/3 of my text, I do shorten things considerably.  Here are 5 tips on how to cut the “extra.”

  1. Give Yourself Space.  When I am too close to my writing, I have troubles spotting what needs to go.  Whenever possible I put things aside for at least a week.  A deadline may mean that I can only put it aside for a day.  This usually gives me enough space to spot what can go.
  2. Look for Info Dumps.  I spend so much time developing my characters and their back story and research pages and pages of facts for both fiction and nonfiction that I often find myself squeezing in extra details.  As I reread my work, I ask myself if this is something my reader needs to know.  I look especially hard at full paragraphs of back story or background detail.  I may not got it all, but I do tighten.
  3. Don’t Repeat Yourself.  A lot of what I cut are repeats.  I’ll show something in my character’s actions and then point it out again through dialogue or narrative.  If all three show the same thing in exactly the same way, it is time to snip away the excess.
  4. Read Out Loud.  This is something my husband and I first noticed when we were reading out loud to our son.  As we read some of the wordier stories, we would skip words.  It was probably just one here and another there but we trimmed as we read.  Now as I read something out loud, I quickly highlight the words I’ve skipped.  This also helps me spot the places that I’ve repeated myself.
  5. Search for Problem Words.  In early drafts, I have a tendency to tell you what my character is about to do.  My character starts this and begins that.  I also tend to use the word that more often than necessary.  A quick search helps me find each use of start, begin and that and I delete as needed.

I may not manage to cut Darcy’s 30%, but when I’m done, I’m confident that my editor doesn’t want to cut word after wordy of chatty text, because I’ve done the job for her.

What do you look for when you cut your own excess verbage?

–SueBE