Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Cutting, Combining, Deleting, Oh My!

By Nichole Giles

In case you’re wondering about my progress in cutting my manuscript down, I’m doing splendidly (what a lovely, terrible adverb!) It’s taken some good, objective looking to do it, because I’m not generally a wordy writer. In times past, I’ve even prided myself in my ability to keep my work tight.

Now that’s not to say I NEVER use dreaded useless adverbs. I think every writer uses a few. The tricky part is knowing when they are helpful and when they’re useless and distracting.

And it isn’t to say I never repeat words or phrases. Holy shmoly. I’m only about halfway through my manuscript, but I’ve lost count of how often I’ve caught myself using phrases like, “he stepped toward” or “she nodded” or “shrugged.”

But then, no one’s perfect. Not even me. (Contrary to popular belief…)

And so I’m cutting. And cutting, and cutting. I’m combining chapters and deleting entire scenes that don’t really matter—even though I thought they did. If it doesn’t move the plot forward or give serious insight into a character, it’s got to go. Every chapter must ask a question, which will be answered at the end of the chapter, and there are interconnecting questions that won’t be answered until the end. I’m following a formula.

So far, I’ve cut approximately thirteen thousand words. It’s a good lesson for me. No matter how tight you think your writing—how succinct or to the point—until you’ve polished that manuscript with a fine paintbrush, there is always more to cut.

For this reason, I have a hard time understanding why a publisher would have minimum word count requirements. Why would I want to add words to a story that’s already complete just to bulk it up? True, shorter books run the risk of being bare bones material. If that’s the case, either reject it or ask the author to add more. Longer books have a much higher risk of repetition and use of excessive unnecessary words.

How do we know if our writing is too bare or too wordy? Well, I’m thinking a good reliable writer’s group is a place to start. Or, barring that, find seven or eight readers you can trust will give you open and honest feedback. Not everyone will agree on each issue and not everyone’s comments will be the right thing. But if more than one person brings up the same point, it’s probably something that needs to be considered.

What else can we do to improve our personal writing abilities? Attend writer’s conferences and classes. Last week, I attended a local conference where I saw several friends I’ve made at previous conferences. It feels good to go to something like that and see familiar, friendly faces. One of my friends—who is fairly new to the conference scene—asked me, “Do you go to all the conferences around here?”

I answered, “As many as I can.”

Then she asked, “Isn’t it a lot of repetition? What do you get from attending so many?”

I had to think about it. For one thing, no matter how much I already know, there is always something new to learn. And writer’s conferences are inspiring to me. I leave each one itching to work on my current masterpiece in progress—or even start a new project. But most importantly, I get to network with other writers. These conferences are where I’ve met the people in my groups. Where I’ve had the opportunity to talk with editors, agents and successful authors. I’ve made some great friends, and I would never be where I am—would never have progressed to whatever stage I’m currently in—without the help of all these people.

So I’m cutting, and I’m fixing, and I’m rewriting, and loving every blooming minute of it. I only wish I could work faster…


Scarlet Knight said...

Nicole, I am impressed. Thirteen thousand words?! That is a ton!

It was great to see you at the conference. No wonder you know so much! :)

Good luck on the revising! :)

Nichole Giles said...

Thanks Scarlet! It was good to see you as well.

Good luck on your revising, too. See you at the next conference!


Heidi Ashworth said...

Unexperienced authors usually do use too many words and scenes and everything else. However, we shouldn't get so hung up about those helpful phrases like "he moved" or even "she said" b/c our ear sort of skips over those. It doesn't annoy the reader, including the over use of them, as much as it annoys them when the author tries to find all sorts of ways to say them such as "she expostulated" or "he cried". Those things really jump out at you and make things seem even more dramatic. Meanwhile, it is so easy to get paranoid when you are making revisions. My book is published and there are still things I wish I had done different. No matter how many times I read it, there is always something I would change. sigh

Nichole Giles said...

You're right. Said is definitely an under-credited word. I prefer it to any other dialogue tag.

But a dialogue tag and a repeated word are two totally different beasts.

Repetition in word and phrase is something we should all try to avoid. If our writing is good, our readers will remember what they've read. We don't need to pound it into them.

And having a book published doesn't necessarily make an author experienced. Writing often, all the time, every day is what does that. Studying, conferences, and more writing.

My problem is that while I'm following a plot, I'm also creating a fantasy world. Authors of adult genre fantasy often write hundreds of thousands of words. Because I've chosen to write YA, I have to tighten my belt and suck up everything I can. It's more a matter of meeting industry requirements than of inexperience.

Thanks for sharing.