Wednesday, July 25, 2018

How Much Should You Cut?

Another point in the link 7 Mistakes to Avoid When Writing Fiction I'd like to comment on is this one:

2. Cut!
So, you can write a 1000 page book? You can. Sure. But, should you? Being wordy gives you a surefire shot at rejection. It is not about showing off your English vocabulary. It is about using only those words that the story needs.. Read your script; see if the book actually requires those 1000 pages of material. In most probability, you would have only 600 pages of the essential story and the rest of unnecessary words hanging here and there!
Rationalize. Remember an unedited story is an agony for readers. They are reading till the end of your story just to know what happens in the end. So make each section of your story an acceptable experience for the readers. As a writer, ensure you don’t go the routine way of information over feed. The audience wants to be entertained and not instructed and jaded. Make sure you send out your crispest version to literary agents and publishers. Nobody has the time.

This came up at the writing session I attended last Saturday when one of the women conducting the session saw how thick the manuscript of my memoir is. She says something of that length would result in immediate rejection. Though FYI, it is only 321 typed pages. If I was told to type 1000 pages, I'd be panicking! One of the things I dreaded about having to write papers in school was the length dictated and/or the number of words the instructor indicated. Even today, when I can write about whatever I want, the idea of typing 1000 pages seems daunting. It seemed difficult enough to get over 100 pages, let alone 300 or more. 

NowNovel says the following about manuscript editing:

Cutting Words Isn’t so Hard. No, Really

Cutting thousands of words from your manuscript seems daunting. Having to cut tens of thousands of words can make you want to curl up in a ball and cry, but it’s much easier than you think.
Let’s look at what “cutting words” means:

When is a manuscript “too long”?

A common “too-long” manuscript is 120,000-words, roughly 480 pages (based on the traditional 250 words per page format). You can cut 4800 words if you delete just ten words per page. Ten words is nothing—it’s one sentence in most cases, and even in polished and published novels you can still find one sentence per page that can go and not lose anything. Cut twenty words per page and that’s almost 10,000 words gone with little effort. A 150,000-word novel? 600 pages, and 6,000 or 12,000 words gone. Cut thirty words—18,000 words down.
Working with words-per-page is much more manageable because you can trim consistently across the entire novel, not just certain sections.

Step One: Decide how much you want to cut

You might have a fixed number in mind, such as 90,000 words, or a sliding scale, such as 80,000-90,000 words. You could also decide to cut in stages, taking out half of the target and then seeing how the manuscript flows before doing anything else.

Step Two: Decide Where it Needs the Cutting

You can trim most manuscripts overall, but some will be heavy in one area and need specific trimming. Looking at the novel’s structure is an easy way to determine where the extra words lie.
Using the basic three-act structure, write down the word count of each act. (Feel free to use whatever structure you prefer and just adjust your percentages to fit your structure.)
Act one is the first 25% of the manuscript, the second 25% fills the ramp up to the midpoint in act two. The third 25% is the ramp down in act two from the midpoint, and the final 25% is in act three. So, if your manuscript is 100,000 words, you’d have four chunks of 25,000 words in each. At the end of each act, you’d have a major plot turning point.
Remember—these guidelines aren’t exact, but if (using the above example) you discover the first act is 35,000 words, but the rest fits your target word counts, there’s a good chance the beginning is too long. Then you should cut your extra words from there.
A 10% variance in section size is fairly normal, but anything beyond that needs a closer look. If you decide an act is working even though it’s longer, that’s okay. The goal is to use structure to diagnose and identify potential trouble areas, not force your manuscript to fit a particular template.

Step Three: Cut down the manuscript

Now comes the tough part, but you can do it. Take it step by step, page by page, and be ruthless. If your instincts are telling you what needs to go first, trust them.

Tricks to make manuscript editing and cutting words easier

If your words-to-cut number is daunting, it might help to trick your brain into thinking it’s not as bad as it looks:
Do the easy cuts first: Empty words, empty dialogue, unnecessary tags—cut all the words that commonly bloat a novel first. It is often surprising how many “only” “just” and “of the” a novel has.
Cut back to front: If you’re cutting words-per-page, start on the last page and work your way back. Not only will this keep you from getting caught up in the story, it won’t adjust the page count and cause you to cut more words from the front than the back as the novel tightens and becomes shorter.
Cut one chapter at a time in a new file: It’s a lot easier to hit that goal when you can see those words dripping off. And a bonus: by isolating the chapter, you can look at it more objectively and judge the pacing and flow.
Cut one act at a time in a new file: Same principle, just with more pages. This helps ensure you apply cuts evenly throughout your novel.
Set time limits on your cutting sessions: The longer you edit, the more likely it is you’ll let something slide because you’re tired and want to move on to the next part. Take a break between editing sessions and avoid this temptation.

Now I'm not sure how this would apply to editing a memoir,  though I'm sure even those require some editing and cutting as far as the length of the manuscript goes. 

And right now, I'm trying to decide what to do with the diary novel in terms of the length. Some have said it's long enough for a kids' books. It's currently 100 typed pages. Not a a lot to cut out. 


  1. Editing is a difficult (and necessary) task. I am frequently irritated (particularly by self published writers) at unnecessary words/sentences/phrases.

  2. Writing is often stronger when you use fewer words. Using specific verbs is a great way to cut down on word count.

  3. I believe Stephen King's formula is 10% cut from the original manuscript.