So, let’s talk about cutting things up.
I’ve got a lot of slashing to do in my near future. The first draft of my new book is almost done, which means a polish draft and then I start cutting. And there’s going to be a lot to cut. It’s closing in on 140,000 words and around 110,000 is where a trade paperback starts to get a little too heavy. I already know a few sections that are going to vanish, but there’ll have to be more to get this down to fighting weight.
So, there’s a little tip I’ve mentioned here once or thrice. First time I heard it was in Stephen King’s On Writing. He got it from an editor when he was a kid, and still tries to follow it today. It’s not a hard-fast percentage, but it’s a great rule of thumb. I’m sure you remember this one--
Second Draft = First Draft – 10%
Now, by coincidence, I’m also going over layout pages for Ex-Patriots right now. It’s coming out in about two months, and it’s already out as an audiobook. By further lucky coincidence, I actually kept track of some exact numbers for Ex-Patriots as I started to edit it. So let’s go over some of them.
The first full draft of Ex-Patriots was 109,088 words. For me, that’s really the second draft because I tend to fly through the first draft and neaten up in my second draft. It means some stuff gets cut early, some stuff gets tightened up, but some stuff gets added, too.
For example, I lopped out one whole chapter because I realized after the fact it didn’t fit the tone and a couple elements in it were happening a bit too soon in the big scheme of things. It was only half-formed, granted, but I still thought it was well done and I liked it, so I plucked the whole thing out before it even got polished. It’ll probably show up in Ex-Communication. Seventeen months from now you can say “Ah-HAH!” when you read the dinner party chapter. That was 500 words gone before I even start the serious cutting.
So my second draft tends to be tighter and leaner, but still a bit larger overall. Let’s see how much I can cut out of this with just a few passes.
First off, I removed 225 thats in the third draft. Almost a full page of them. For the record, I cut over one thousand thats from The Eerie Adventures of the Lycanthrope Robinson Crusoe. I’ve mentioned that before as a word which is easy to cut. Go through your writing and I’ll bet you’ll find half your uses of that could go away with no problem. Right there, the draft is down to 108, 863 words.
Then I cut 406 words worth of adverbs and adverbial phrases. I’ve mentioned a couple times how easy it is to lose adverbs. It usually forces you into using better words, too.
Next I got rid of useless modifiers. This is a bad habit I developed along the way that a friend (and editor) of mine named Somewhat Syndrome. It’s when I use modifiers as half-strength adverbs and adjectives. It comes up a lot when I have to describe measurements (a bit over a mile, almost two hundred pounds, and so on). I deleted 61 kind ofs, 14 sort ofs, another 61 uses of almost, and a whopping 70 a bits. That’s over 200 more words gone altogether. At this point the manuscript’s down to 108, 251 words.
Then there was some general tightening. I’d go through and look for places where contractions would make the dialogue flow better or excess verbiage had just crept in one way or another. It happens when I think too much, to be honest, and start wondering if sentences are clear or if I’m being specific enough.
For example, what’s the difference between I’ll drive my own car and I’ll drive my car? Not much except for some emphasis, which might already be established with the tone of the moment. Or what about she blinked her eyes open and closed, as if there was some other way to blink and some other part of your body to do it with.
Another 220 words went away during this pass.
So check this out. Remember that great little tip from Mr. King? At this point I’ve cut well over a thousand words, five solid pages of manuscript, and I haven’t even changed anything. I haven’t taken out any dialogue or removed characters or shortened sequences.
Y’see, Timmy, editing isn’t always painful and arbitrary. A lot of the time it’s necessary. And the necessary stuff isn’t that hard to deal with. All those cuts I just mentioned used the Find feature in word, so that’s only a day’s worth of work.
A few other chunks went away later in the editing process. There were a few jokes and ten percenters I’d added that I since admitted weren’t worth the payoff. One scene went away when I realized it made no sense with my revised timeline.
By the end of the third draft of Ex-Patriots, I’d cut over thirty-five hundred words. Not the mathematical ten percent we’re aiming for, but with the cuts and revisions between first and second, I felt pretty good about it.
Of course, you can get the book in a few weeks and tell me if I messed up
Next time... well, I’m open to suggestions. If no one has any, I might rant about spelling again (we’re due). I’ve got one potential idea, but I’m not sure if it’s been done already...
Until then, go write.