Editing Tip #133 – Cutting the Fat From Your Writing

After writing and rewriting several drafts, you’re finally ready to submit your book to agents, publishers, or send it to an interior formatter for self-publishing…

But then you notice/remember that the ideal length of a manuscript in your genre is max 90K words and your book is sitting at 95,433. You ask yourself if an extra five and half thousand words will really put a damper on the receipt of your book–you know it will. With the market being so competitive these days agents, publishers, and readers demand the best from their authors.

So, how do you go about cutting the fat from your beloved manuscript?

First of all, as I always recommend, take some time away. The distance from it will do you good and help bring clarity for the next task.

Second, assuming you’ve already gone through and fixed your sagging middle and those pesky plot holes, you need to look at tightening your work with a very different eye than before–your surgeon’s view.

Below is a helpful infographic I devised to help you work through the various ways to work off those extra pounds/words without scarring your masterpiece. A good surgeon, after all, will leave no trace of their work and the patient will be all the better for the operation.


Just to elaborate on the points above, here are some examples and points to consider during this final stage (before a last proofread and letting a professional see your work):

Cutting the Unnecessary Words:

e.g. Margery ran all the way up the stairs and careeneding left around the corner, to the left before stopping before at the red door. [22 words]

Clean Version:

Margery ran upstairs careening left around the corner, stopping before the red door. [13 words]

Now, you’re probably thinking that cutting 9 words in the grand scheme of things is no big deal, but if we jump ahead to my last point about dividing your overage by the total number of pages in your book this is what you get…

Have a Goal per Page:

95,433 words over 382 pages = approx 250 words per page

5,433 / 250 words per page = approx 22 words per page to cut

This means that your goal has gone from cutting over five thousands words from your book to cutting only 22 words per page–and that’s so much more doable.

Suddenly, those 13 words cut from that one fatty sentence gets you 2/3 of the way to your total page goal. And hey, how hard is it to find another 9 words to cut? If you manage to cut a few more words on your rather full pages, then meeting your quota on pages of dialogue (or partial pages at the end of a chapter) are easier to deal with because you’ve already banked extra words.

Cut the Excessive:

This is where you need to be 100% honest with yourself and be willing to “kill your darlings” as they say. Now, this doesn’t mean writing out your favourite minor character (although, if they serve no purpose to the story then that should have been taken care of during your substantive edit). No, at this stage in the game, your “darlings” are those phrases, sentences, paragraphs, and scenes that don’t actually work toward moving your plot or character arcs forward. They are often unnecessary pieces of information or background, even a section of particularly purple prose, you left in place simply because you liked it.

Generally, when these sections are removed there’s very little nipping and tucking required (if at all) to blend together what remains. Many of these will likely have been taken care of early on with your line edit, but there are always a few that sneak through to the end.

Rephrase the Necessary:

This part plays a lot into your vocabulary and word choices throughout your manuscript. Likely you’ve already gotten rid of your use of “very” to describe a weak word [very gullible, very beautiful, etc.] and other similar crutch words. But there are still other configurations out there that can use refinement.

up the stairs = upstairs [3 words to 1] Need to know where but can say the same thing with less words.

“Achoo!” she sneezed. = “Achoo!” [3 words to 1] It is redundant to explain that a sneeze happened.

He quaked in the pitch-black, shadowless dark. = He quaked in the absolute dark. [7 words to 6] “Pitch-black” and “shadowless” are the same. You could use one or the other or “absolute” to encompass it all. Pitch-black is also an overused word.

Even though you are only gaining a word or two from each of these examples, over the course of a page they will add up, helping you reach that 22 words per page goal.

Regardless whether you’ve decided to self-publish or not (and word count is less of an issue) by taking the time to set yourself an “ideal” overall word count (or even just a per page count regardless – like 10 words per page) you will challenge yourself to craft the best piece of writing you possibly can. Don’t settle for acceptable when you can flex your craft and have an exceptional manuscript.

Happy Editing!

Categories: Editing

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3 replies

  1. Thanks for the editing tips. However, as NaNoWriMo approaches, this article seems to be the exact opposite of what participation seems to inspire. Not a popular opinion, I’m sure, but why pack ’em in only to have to edit them out later? I understand that one goal is to break the back of writer’s block, but it seems it could be done without high word count goals.
    (Madelyn Griffith-Haynie – ADDandSoMuchMore dot com)
    – ADD Coach Training Field founder; ADD Coaching co-founder –
    “It takes a village to educate a world!”

    Liked by 1 person

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