Monday, September 1, 2014

5 Tips to Trim your Writing

by Jemi Fraser

Many beginning writers end up with enormous word counts. (If you want to check out my story, it's over on my blog today).

Trimming Tip #1 -- Adjectives & Adverbs

Cut. Cut. Cut. Sure you need a few adjectives, and sometimes they enhance your prose, but be careful! I'm not an especially visual person or writer, but I was floored when I first learned this tip and realized how many adjectives I had in my draft. Nearly every sentence was sprinkled with writerly words that screamed AMATEUR!

Ditto the above advice for adverbs. It's a little easier to edit for these though. Use that handy-dandy Find tool (CTRL F) and search for 'ly'. We all know not all adverbs end in ly, but many do, and this tool makes it easy to spot them. It also takes you out of the flow of reading the story, which is very important when editing. Often replacing your verb/adverb combination with a stronger/more explicit verb makes your sentence stronger.

Trimming Tip #2 -- Cutting Scenes

Whole scenes. As you're editing, ask yourself about the purpose of the scene. If it's not moving the story along, not increasing the tension or the conflict or the stakes, bring out the sword and slash away. Painful, yes, but maybe you can keep some of them as bonus content for visitors to your website. (Make sure the quality is high, after all, there's a reason you're cutting in the first place!)

Trimming Tip #3 -- Filler Words

We all have them. Some of them are more obvious than others. Once I feel pretty good about a draft, I dump my story into Wordle and eliminate all the proper nouns (right click then delete). The bigger the word, the more times it appears. Then use that CTRL F tool to help you find and eliminate as many as you can.

Some words that often appear as fillers:

just, suddenly, again, eyes, look/looked/looks, seemed/seems, feels/felt, smiles/smiled, really, very, maybe, quite, started to...

Trimming Tip #4 -- Qualifiers

Eliminating words and phrases like 'a bit', 'a little', 'sort of', 'seemed to' 'felt like', can all make your writing stronger and, as an added bonus, make your characters less wishy-washy at the same time. If someone's mad, let him/her be all the way mad!

Trimming Tip #5 -- Echoes

This is my Achilles' heel. As the self-proclaimed Queen of Redundancies, I've literally cut thousands of words by eliminating phrases and sentences where I'm repeating information already provided. Trust your readers not to be idiots, they'll get it the first time. (<-- Which is a great example of a sentence including an echo!)

Trimming the fat out of that draft will do nothing but enhance your story. Don't be afraid of that delete key. If it helps, imagine Legolas or Aragorn at your side, sword in hand, as you slash your way to a stronger story!

Do you enjoy the Slash 'n' Burn rounds of editing?

Jemi Fraser is an aspiring author of contemporary romance. She blogs  and tweets while searching for those HEAs.


Mason Canyon said...

Wonderful tips, Jemi. I find myself using too many qualifiers and filler words. I'll have to give Wordle a try.

L. Diane Wolfe said...

If a scene contributes nothing to the overall story, it's time to go. I've cut many extra scenes.

JeffO said...

I'm also big on #5. The good thing is I'll usually know it--not necessarily when I'm writing it, but when I read it for the first time. I'll get to something on page 23 and think, "Wait a minute, I think I have the exact same thing somewhere around p. 190." I guess these are things I feel are particularly important.

I actually do enjoy the Slash-n-Burn round of editing, probably much more so than when it's at the single word stage. I get more impatient the later it gets in the editing.

Daveler said...

If your goal is to cut words, adjective and adverbs are often a quicker way to say the same thing. When I cut a huge chunk of my manuscript, I ended up then having to go through and diversify sentence structure because I used more adjectives than I had before. It's much faster to say he walked down the dark path, then he walked down the path. He couldn't see through the dark.

If your goal is to create more ambiance however, then switching out adjectives and adverbs may be a good option, also you want to make sure to keep it varied, which was the ramification I had to deal with.

Also, cutting out most prepositional phrases. You lose like three words each time, and yet your audience still gets it. Instead of she watched the paint on the wall, you can say, she watched the paint. Sometimes that messes with cadence but often it's a good quick method.

Jemi Fraser said...

Mason - I love Wordle for this - it's awesome!

Diane - me too! Think that's probably attached to the joy of not being a plotter for me :)

Jeff - slash n burn is fun! Love trimming :)

Daveler - excellent points! Love the prepositional phrase tip especially. Be easy to do another Find search for 'on the' 'over the' ... Nice!

Kelly Steel said...

Great tips, Jemi!

Lynda R Young said...

Great tips, well explained.

Medeia Sharif said...

I enjoy slashing and burning today. Not so much in my early writing days, though.

Jemi Fraser said...

Thanks Kelly & Lynda!

Medeia - it's my favourite part of the editing/revising process :)

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

I like the search and destroy feature in Word. And I used Wordle for my latest manuscript. Definitely an eye-opener!

Debra McKellan said...

Man, when I first stopped to say, "Is this scene necessary?" It hurt my feelings. lol But it needed to go. I was so ambitious on that first draft. SMH.

Shelley Sly said...

These are awesome tips! While I generally under-write instead of over-write, my manuscripts do have scenes where my CPs say, "I'd shorten this if you can." Tip #5 is the one I needed to hear the most!

Jemi Fraser said...

Alex - I was shocked at my first Wordle use!! Crazy what words show up!

Debra - me too! I've cut some of very favourite scenes - so hard! :)

Shelley - thanks! me too #5 is hard!!

SC Author said...

Agree on all! Cutting is crucial, learned that lesson the tough way with my first MS.

Jemi Fraser said...

SC - me too!!

Editors At Work said...

Thanks for sharing this great list of pointers!

Jemi Fraser said...

Editors - glad you found something you could use! :)

My Friend Ronnie said...

I loved this post, so many helpful tips as I slash and burn through my first draft.NO=ow off to try Wordle.

Jemi Fraser said...

Friend Ronnie - so glad the tips help!! Enjoy Wordle - I'm always in for a surprise or two when I use it! :)