Friday, May 20, 2016
Cutting Your Precious Words
Stephen King's quote came on in neon lights in my mind this week as I posted a first draft of a memoir piece to my online critique group. When the crits came rolling in, there was not as much about the content as cutting unnecessary words.
No matter how long I write, that first draft fills up with words that can and should be cut. It's especially important to get rid of what you can when you have a maximum word count. Those needless words are taking up valuable space! One of the reasons they appear in the first draft, at least for me, is that I tend to write it just as I think and speak normal conversations. The writer part of me has to take over when it's time to write the second or third draft.
Entire paragraphs can be cut when we repeat the same idea but in different words. For some reason, we like to repeat some important part just to make sure our readers 'get it.' I remember a college professor giving exam instructions for an essay question saying Don't be redundant. At the time, I didn't know the meaning of redundant so I sat and squirmed a bit, wasting precious writing time. Finally, I slipped over to the prof's desk and admitted my inadequacy. He gave me a short explanation and I hurried back to begin writing. Got an A on the exam and added to my vocabulary that day.
When you are revising a first draft, check to see that you have not told your reader the same thing in different places. You might be able to cut large amounts if you are guilty of this writer's sin.
Adverbs take a hit over and over again as we are advised to use them sparsely, if at all. Go through your story, essay or chapter and slash those adverbs. They tend to tell rather than show. Maybe they are also the lazy writer's crutch.
Another way to cut is to keep descriptive areas to a minimum. The less is more theory works here. It's a little like the woman who goes to a fancy function who puts on a simple but elegant dress and then drapes herself with a gaggle of jewelry that covers the attraction of the dress itself. Let the best part shine and dump the extras.
When using dialogue, put words in your characters' mouths that make a point and then stop. Don't let them talk on and on. Let their words move the story along; make the important point and quit.
Finally, cut anything that does not move your story from it's beginning to its conclusion. Keep your reader focused on the plot and the characters who carry the story.