Thursday, October 6, 2011

The Story of a Story

Today I want to tell you a story:

Once upon a time I wrote a book. It was not my first book, but I loved it like it was. People critiqued it, and I made changes. More people critiqued it, and I made more changes. People started telling my good things about my book. This made me happy.

So I worked on my query letter. People critiqued it, and I made changes. More people critiqued it, and I made more changes. And people told me happy things about my query letter. This made me happy, too.

And I wanted to query.

But one thing bothered me. . . .

. . . the page count.

My book was long. This did not make me happy.

So I started cutting. Little things at first:
  • "he said." 
  • "she said." 
  • "he turned and walked." 
  • "lightly" 
  • "stupidly" 
  • "blindly" 
  • "quickly" 
  • . . . blah, blah, blah . . . you get the idea. 
But it wasn't enough.
So I cut more. Bigger things this time:
  • "this passage is so funny! but it doesn't move the plot forward." 
  • "this passage tells us so much about this character! but it's already shown in other ways." 
  • "this information is so interesting! but it's all backstory in one big chunk."
  • . . . blah, blah, blah . . . you get the idea. 
But it still wasn't enough. (Yeah, it was LONG.)
So I cut more. Even bigger things this time:
  • "I really like how this plot line twists right there! but it's a bit long winded, and what if someone asks this question . . . you know, the one that makes all the logic of getting there crumble?"
  • "what I said before but for a different part of the story."
  • "I really like what happens here! but a similar thing happens in this other part."
  • . . . blah, blah, blah . . . you get the idea. 
And while this story isn't finished yet, I will tell you this: My beta re-readers between each cut session couldn't tell what I'd cut. None of it was missed. None. And while they did notice the plot changes I'd made . . . they thought it was better.

So if you, too, are struggling with the the dreaded thing called word count, are you sure you've cut all you can?


Joanne said...

I did the same thing with a manuscript this past Spring. I even cut chapters! It's amazing how the process really tightens the story, and makes what's left read even better. Happy editing :)

Carolyn V said...

Cutting makes me sad, but makes the story so much better! Funny how that works. ;)

Saumya said...

GREAT question. I'm in the process of major revisions and am cutting a lot.

LTM said...

great advice. Too bad my problem is just the OPPOSITE!!! I tend to be too brief. I can always add more description, it seems, or slow a scene down, or whatever. Revisions are a beast~ :o) <3

Stacy S. Jensen said...

Great point that the beta readers didn't notice the cuts. I try to do a "waste sheet" (I read about that in the blogosphere) now. I put cuts that I like, but know aren't needed. I save it for something else. Maybe I'm a word hoarder.

Carol Riggs said...

Good for you!!!!! Great list of stuff to slash, to whittle a manuscript down to a readable size. :)

Susanna Leonard Hill said...

Such a good point! I am squarely in the too-wordy camp myself, and always looking for ways to cut. But it's hard! Good for you and good luck with the book!

Laurel Garver said...

Been there, done that. I managed to cut a 102K manuscript down to a svelte 63K, then decided I'd been a little over-zealous and plumped up the overly-fast scenes. Now it's sitting pretty at 65K.

Bethany Elizabeth said...

My first fantasy novel was over 200K. And only about 50K was necessary to the overall plot. *SIGH*
Luckily, I've learned my lesson. :)

WritingNut said...

I'm definitely dealing with this right now... I have soooo many of these unnecessary actions that I need to cut. At one point I was doing revisions and it was almost 140k.. And I was supposed to be cutting (word count goal: 85k)!

KamilleE said...

I wish I could cut. I tend to write stories that are too short to be called novels. In fact, I actually go through and do my best to add pointless words wherever I can. But now, I'm coming to terms with short novels. It just doesn't bother me as much as it used to.

Victoria Dixon said...

I'm so glad you sound happy about it! I always feel bad about pointing out passages (frequently delightful ones) that are redundant or tangents. I suspect they were made wonderful because the author was moved in some way by the subject. It's a sadness to suggest removing something that touched the author so much. :(

Maeve Frazier said...

Great advice. Thanks for sharing.

Angela said...

This is good advice, but I do think you need to be careful too.

Right after I wrote my first book (which was about 180,000 words) I was so desperate to cut the word count, I went back and edited out my voice.

Angela Ackerman said...

The last revision letter I got sggested I ct 50 pages. F-I-F-T-Y pages. And this was from a 46K novel, so it's not like it was exceptionally long.

It is amazing what yo can cut (and the story was tight to start with!) but when you start looking at what moves the story forward and what just characterizes or makes a big difference. :)

Angela @ The Bookshelf Muse

Anita Grace Howard said...

Ooh, great post! I'm a very long winded writer, so my final versions always end up in LOTS of cuttage.

MikeS said...

I struggle with word count from the opposite perspective. Wow, my story is so "short". What more can I add to give the readers a better more complete story?

Maybe I should just be a short story writer.

Rosalind Adam said...

Once I get into cutting I can't stop and it always improves the work. I even spend time cutting the word count on my blog posts and I'm sure they benefit too.