Friday, May 19, 2006

A Haircut for Your Baby

By Nichole Giles

One of the LDStorymakers said at a conference last March, “You can never have too many writing books.” I know that must be true, so I’ve taken to collecting them. I wish I could say I’ve read all the books on writing I’ve been collecting, but I haven’t. I've read several, and they have given me many helpful tips. One of the best tips I’ve picked up is covered in every book I’ve read. I’m talking about clutter.

What is clutter? Superfluous words. Anything that doesn’t move your story forward, doesn’t add to it in some way could be considered clutter. For example: I had been seriously considering the amazingly satisfying idea of smacking that darn editor on the head with the stupidly impersonal rejection letter that he had sent, but I decided that it might not be such a perfectly great idea for me to do so.

At one point, I would have looked at that sentence and laughed. I doubt I would have found anything wrong with it, since every writer experiences similar feelings. However, after reading several of my stash of books, going to conferences, and critiquing others’ manuscripts I am willing to take a minute to use what I’ve learned and cut the clutter from that sentence in order to make it stronger. Here are my results:

I was considering smacking that editor on the head with the rejection letter he sent, but I decided it might not be a good idea.

This is the kind of editing that happens in EVERY manuscript. It must be picked apart, analyzed, scrutinized and then fixed. When editing this sentence, I was able to cut twenty out of forty-five words. In case your math is bad, that leaves twenty-five words. I cut nearly half of what was originally written, and the writing is stronger with the loss of the cut words. This is important when you’re trying to stay within a word limit.

Some of the most commonly used superfluous words are: that, had, of, so, enough, had been, up, such, very, and words ending in “ly”. Every time I go through one of my own manuscripts, I try to cut a few more of these words to tighten my story.

I hate cutting words from my beautiful manuscripts; it’s a little like giving a baby his first haircut. It breaks your heart when the scissors come out, but the end result makes him look so much better—unless you get one of the really bad haircutting people. In that case you may wish to take that person’s scissors to his or her own hair to return the favor. The good thing is if a fellow writer hacks your baby’s hair to unrecognizable bits, you don’t have to take his advice. Even if they try to rewrite your story it still belongs to you. You are the boss, and you alone can decide if a word is important or not.

I decided twenty out of forty-five words were unimportant, and by cutting them added emphasis and clarity to what I was trying to say.

That sentence is now much stronger. Not to mention a rule to live by. Hitting editors over the head with rejection letters could be considered bad writing etiquette, despite the satisfaction it might give you.


Anonymous said...

Very good advice and something that's not always easy to do. By the way, I loved your advice at the end about not hitting the editor over the head.

Oh . . . 'by the way', is that one of those things I should have cut?

Nichole Giles said...

Hi anonymous.

Thanks for your comment. You probably should have cut, "by the way" but, I won't tell if you don't!