5 Ways to Cut Wordiness

by Davina on June 1, 2013


Cut your novel down to size

In 6 Easy Ways to Cut Word Count, we discussed editing out weasel words. This post covers additional strategies for self-editing.

1. Moderate back story

Cut writing that doesn’t move the story forward. To hook readers — within the first 10 pages — the story should begin near the inciting incident. In the early stages of a novel, writing should be infused with foreshadowing of future events, not history.

Too much history at the onset prevents the development of a relationship with characters or an interest in what is at stake. Early chapters acquaint the reader with characters’ mannerisms and lifestyle. Introduce back story gradually, through dialogue, which is also an excellent way to show rather than tell.

2. Dialogue tags: the less saids the better

Dialogue tags, such as he said and she said, identify who is speaking. It’s not necessary to use them after each statement. Start new conversation with a few dialogue tags to assert the reader. After that, use tags when it’s not obvious who’s speaking.

In my draft Deep Into Midnight I used action and thoughts to identify the speaker, rather than writing said every time.

In this excerpt, a young girl in distress walks into the donut shop while Colleen is wiping the counter.

Colleen was still wiping the counter and the girl was staring at her, frowning.
“Can I help you?” Colleen was afraid to ask.
“Got a phone I can use?” The girl glanced at the phone behind the counter, and then back at Colleen.
Colleen forgot about wiping the counter. This girl was going to be a handful.
“A little young to be drinking aren’t you?” Colleen ignored her request.

3. Scale down small movements

  • She reached over and wiped a tear from her daughter’s cheek. [Revised] She wiped a tear from her daughter’s cheek.
  • He turned and walked to the door. [Revised] He walked to the door.
  • Ellen doesn’t need to have her jaw drop and her eyes widen. It could be enough to say she is shocked.

4. Reduce filter words

Filter words influence the reader’s perspective through the character’s viewpoint.

  • He saw his horse gallop through the field. [Revised] The horse galloped through the field.
  • She felt her pulse quicken. [Revised] Her pulse quickened.
  • She heard ringing in her ears. [Revised] Her ears were ringing.

5. Redundancy: avoid saying something twice

  • Something to consider from Garth Stein: “Go through your book and cut the last sentence of every paragraph.” After reviewing his manuscript, he realized he didn’t trust himself or his reader. Although he had accomplished his writing goal, throughout his manuscript he had made repetitive statements to reinforce various points.
  • Avoid repetition. Ellen’s jaw dropped and her eyes widened, or she was surprised. Choose one description.

Stay tuned for the final post of this series, offering more ways to cut the word count in your manuscript.

Do you have a habit of wordiness?
What other ways can you reduce word count?

Photo Credit: Gaeia

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patricia June 5, 2013 at 11:31 am

I need to cut my words when I am talking – big time! I use the word “anyway” to hold on to people who are listening. I used to be very good when I was giving a lecture or preaching, but now I get distracted and so many people feel free to interrupt me mid sentence, I get lost.

I do best when I write down every word and then edit. Most of my posts used to be 1200 words, now I am averaging 400 words, making the point, getting folks interested, and not spoiling the plots of the story. I am also getting to the point where I hate to read other folks book reviews because they tell me too much. One of the members of my book group does not even read the books anymore – she just tries to read about 5 reviews before each gathering!

Another great post, I thank you for sharing.
patricia´s last blog post ..THE LEMON TREE: An Arab, A Jew, and the Heart of the Middle East ~Sandy Tolan

Davina July 2, 2013 at 5:32 pm

Hi Patricia.

You’re welcome! I appreciate your continued support over here.

Hey, you’ve made excellent progress with reducing the word count in your blog posts. Wow! That’s fantastic. With so many blog posts to read, I’m sure your readers appreciate your ability to get to the point in fewer words.

That’s a very good point you’ve made about not telling all, when writing book reviews as well. It can be a challenge to not share too much after you’ve become so connected with a book.

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