Wow, look how long my story is!
Regular visitors to my blog may find this advice from me familiar, but I hope they’ll forgive me recycling it so I can participate in a blogfest. (I am supposed to be on holiday this week, after all!)
Watch for places in your manuscript where “less is more” – where fewer words would create a stronger impact. Imagine having to pay $1 for every word you use, and chances are you’ll find lots of words your story doesn’t really need. Go in with a scalpel; a hatchet is not necessary. Like most writers you’ll be surprised how many words can be cut.
I like racking up the word count when I’m writing a new draft as much as any writer, but I get just as much pleasure (maybe even more?) from watching the word count fall as I make judicious cuts.
One of the most satisfying jobs I ever did was an editing job in which the writer had done his best to cut a 5000-word story in half, at a publisher’s request. He was upset because he felt he was losing important scenes and snatches of dialogue from the story, and he’d only managed to cut 1000 words. With his permission, I set out to show him how it might be done. Cutting a phrase here and a phrase there, I got the story down to 2500 words and I’d even managed to reinstate material I liked that he had cut previously, when trying to get the manuscript down to 5000 words. He was delighted and so was the publisher. Sadly, as sometimes happens in publishing, the company decided they couldn’t take on his story after all, for reasons that had nothing to do with the story.
It can be painful saying goodbye to carefully chosen, much-loved turns of phrase, but be ruthless. Your readers will thank you for it.
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Kathy Stinson is the author of the classic Red Is Best and the award-winning The Man with the Violin. Her wide range of titles includes picture books, non-fiction, young adult fiction, historical fiction, horror, biography, series books, and short stories. She has met with her readers in every province and territory of Canada, in the United States, Britain, Liberia, and Korea. She lives in a small town in Ontario.