Revising: Knowing When to Stop Cutting

I’m finishing up the last few chapters of my revision of THE MEMORY THIEF right now, and I’m very much in “cut” mode. I realize that I have a tendency to write more than is needed in my prose, so I typically go over what I’ve written and try to cut at least 10% of whatever’s there. It’s scary how easy it is, really–and it helps in a whole lot of different ways. First off, it helps me be less repetitive. When I’m cutting, I notice tons of places where I’ve said the same thing twice–just in different ways. Or where I have the action repeat itself. All of those things can just get snipped. I pick the description that’s strongest, and that stays.

Then there are the junk words that I pepper throughout my writing. The “justs” and the “thats” and the “thens.” Those all can go. Same with a bunch of adverbs that snuck in when I wasn’t looking. Cut cut cut cut. Passive voice needs looking at. Descriptions need tightening. And all of it’s for the better.

In the end, I believe it makes a big difference. The pacing feels tighter. A book that was 48,000 words long is suddenly 42,000 (roughly)–that’s a chunk of words, really.

But the trick is that when you get down to it, there’s never a spot where you just have to stop. You can always say things in fewer words. Instead of having something happen in scene, you can put it in exposition. You can simplify the sentences. You can cut all the way to the bone, and then just keep on going. A 48,000 word story could end up a one page summary, if you get my drift. And clearly when someone’s wanting to read a book, they’re not in it just to find out what happened as quickly as possible. Much of the fun is the journey.

So you need to cut, but not cut too much. Keep the voice. Keep the things that make the story unique and fun. Some scenes might not do much to advance the plot, but they do tons to advance character or setting or description. So you’re in a constant state of deciding what needs to stay and what needs to go. That’s why I like the 10% rule. If I find myself going much over that, I take a look at what I’m cutting, and I try to ask myself if I’m cutting too much. If I’m cutting less than that, I’m almost always just being lazy–or it’s a scene I’d already worked on a lot.

The good news is that I usually only do this when I’m about done with a book. After I do the 10%, there’s not much more for me to do until I get notes from an editor (or my agents, if they still have things they’d like to see changed). So THE MEMORY THIEF is getting very close to being sent out to editors. Yay for that.

And in other good news, I’ve been thinking more about GET CUPID, and I might have come up with a way to really kick the book up a few notches. It’s an idea that potentially fixes one of the last big problems I know is present in the book. I’ve got some people reading it for me now. When I hear back from them, I’ll ask about this idea and see what they think. If it works, I might be revisiting that novel sooner than I’d thought. We shall see.

Back to editing!

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