Friday, August 3, 2012

How to shorten the length of your novel without cutting entire scenes

I've been coming across a lot of people lately who wrote manuscripts with a word count of well over what they want it to be who are worried about their manuscript being rejected. Here are some ways to shorten your manuscript without cutting any scenes out of it. You'll be surprised by how many words you remove.

1. Make your descriptions more precise.

This is a mistake I've committed on occasion before. More words aren't always better.

For example, saying . . . . . . a sour citrus fruit, shaped like a football and yellow in color, isn't better than just calling it a lemon. The second "description", even though it is only one word, creates a more vivid picture and it's more precise.

2. Cut out all or most adverbs.

You've probably heard this a lot, but it's true. Most adverbs add nothing to a sentence.

"She tiptoed quietly."

Since tiptoes are always quiet, this means nothing.

"She yelled angrily."

Since I hope that the author is showing through the hostile body language of the character and insults they are probably spewing that they are angry, then "angrily" becomes unnecessary as well.

3. Learn to recognize filler words. You can tell a word is a filler word if you take it out of the sentence and the sentence still retains the same meaning. (Below are a few examples, but there are more out there.)

Just

This could be added to any sentence in your story. It often gets meaninglessly added to things.

Here's an example of dialogue:

"Tell me where you went!" She stamped her foot angrily.

"I went to the grocery store! Don't be mad!"

Could become:

"(Just) tell me where you went!" She stamped her foot angrily as she (just) waited for the answer.

"I (just) went to the grocery store! (Just) Don't be mad!"

See? Add it to any sentence and the sentence still has the same meaning. A lot of times the word "just" is filler. Every word you write should count.

Ever So

I see writers using this phrase a lot.

"She tiptoed ever so softly."

"She spoke ever so sweetly."

It's the equivalent of writing "very." But it sounds more whimsical.

"She tiptoed very softly"

"She spoke very sweetly."

But it's just as meaningless.

Seem/Like/Appear

I see a lot of writers using these words when something actually is something.

"She had wings and her skin sparkled. Flower petals twirled in the air surrounding her. It seemed like she was a fairy."

Did it just seem like she was a fairy or was she actually a fairy and the character was discovering it at that moment?

"She had wings and her skin sparkled. Flower petals twirled in the air surrounding her. She was a fairy.

Really/Very

"Substitute "damn" every time you're inclined to write "very"; your editor will delete it and the writing will be just as it should be." - Mark Twain

He said it better than I could.

Kind of/Sort of/Somewhat

It makes the writer sound unsure of themselves and often is used when someone is something and not just sort of something.

For instance . . .

"She was sort of angry."

Should be . . . .

"She was angry."

Maybe she's not foaming at the mouth, incoherent babbling, ready to kill everyone that speaks to her angry, but she's still angry. Even if someone is only a tiny bit angry, they are still angry. Use the actions of the character to show just how angry she is. If she forgives quickly, we realize that she wasn't that angry. If she takes out a gun and points it at another characters head, then we know she's raging.

(I won't even get into the fact right now that stating someone is angry is telling and not showing, but you understand my example, so that's all that matters.)

Back/Up/Down

Not always, but back, up, and down are often used when unnecessary.

"She fell down."

Usually when people fall, they go down, not up, so it's redundant to write the direction as well.

Even

"I couldn't even tell!"

It's similar to very. Do you need the even or does "I couldn't tell" work fine on its own?

Of/At

"She went to the park at City Square."

Could easily be . . .

"She went to City Square Park."

It has the same meaning, but it's one less word.

Began/Start

I see people misuse these all the time.

"She began to laugh" is a common one.

What is beginning to laugh? What does it sound like? Is there such a thing as almost laughing? No, people either laugh or they don't, so "She laughed" will suffice.

While . . . .

"She started the car."

Would be an example of when "began/start" works fine and makes sense. Just make sure you're using it in the appropriate places.

4. Cut adjectives

After one or two are used to describe something they usually lose all meaning.

"She was pretty, popular, blond, ambitious, crazy, sexy......"

And sometimes you're showing something already through a characters actions, so you don't need to use an adjective to describe it.

"The angry child threw a tantrum."

Since happy children do not have tantrums, it's redundant to say "angry."


5. Don't repeat yourself for emphasis

I see writers doing this a lot and I say: If you didn't say it right the first time, then you didn't say it right at all.

"She was a very mean person. I mean, truly hateful."

All you really need to say there is "She's a mean person." If it's not enough then you either need to show and not tell to make your point by showing your character doing something mean for instance or need to word it in a different way. The more you repeat something, the less meaning the words actually have.

6. Passive Voice

You've probably heard about "was" and using other verbs as often as possible in its place. The sentences come out stronger and more precise, but passive voice is more than that.

It's about making the reader experience the things your character does directly, instead of filtered through your characters senses.

"I could feel the cold wind blowing on my face."

Should be . . .

"Cold wind blew on my face."

And . . . .

"I could see the millions of stars in the sky glittering at me."

Should be "Millions of stars in the sky glittered."

It makes the sentences more immediate (and also shorter!)

7. Shorten Conversation

Conversation in literature isn't the same as conversation in real life. In books, every bit of dialogue should further the story in some way, while in real life, there's a lot of . . . . .

"Hey, how are you?"

"I'm good. How about you?"

"Kind of bored, you know?"

"I totally get what you mean."

And repeating of one's self as well . . . . .

"It was massive. Huge! I was so scared that I was almost peeing my pants. You have no idea how terrified I was."

Book conversation is an abbreviation of all of that. It's how books are in general, an abbreviation of a character's life. We don't write down every time they use the rest room or write in detail about how many times they had to stir the pudding to keep it from burning on the stove top. Dialogue is the same way. We know the characters are experiencing all those things and saying all those things, but they won't be included in the book because they're boring to read about.

8. Explaining

Sometimes writers get terrified a reader won't get something unless they explain it, so they write out an explanation.

Some explanations are okay (like if your character is just putting together the pieces of something), but not all are. Not all people will get everything you write, but that doesn't mean you should explain it because it's talking down to your readers and it makes all the actions created in the scene lose their meaning.

For instance, I wrote in one of my novels once that a character "made a v-shape with two fingers and licked the air between it" as a mocking gesture towards someone of what they did to their wife. Someone read it and thought I was talking about a character flipping another character off. That wasn't it at all and even though there are people who won't get what that means, if I explain it in the book, it will cheapen the moment.

8 comments:

Jeff Hargett said...

You provided very good examples of sentence-tightening techniques. For people like me (who are naturally wordy) posts like these are great.

One devil's-advocate perspective on the adverb issue though... I've seen writers use a dozen or more words solely to avoid using a single adverb (or adjective.) So, I think there are times the single adverb or adjective is preferred.

Nice post!

Martin Willoughby said...

Not forgetting the removal of 'that' wherever possible.

And I'm with Jeff on the adverb front. Sometimes you just have to use them.

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eva nurlela putri said...

Banned complain !! Complaining only causes life and mind become more severe. Enjoy the rhythm of the problems faced. no problem no life, no matter did not learn, so enjoy it :)

Obat Kanker Ginjal Tanpa Cuci Darah
Tips Sembuhkan Benjolan Pada Leher
Obat Sakit Pinggang Ibu Hamil
Obat Polip Pita Suara Herbal
Yoghurt Dan Manfaatnya Bagi Kesehatan
Obat Kanker Leher Dan Kepala
Cara Mengobati Fibroid Secara Alami