Posted on Feb, 23, 2010
Ah, I just completed my third edit on Jade Wind, and managed to hack it even further to 115,000 words. ^_^ Before I started chopping out parts, I was really concerned that it would be impossible to kill my darlings, but as I got going, I was surprised at how much superflous STUFF (yes, stuff) was in my manuscript. Cutting it out really did make my story tighter and stronger. Nevertheless, I understand that it is hard for a writer to go through and kill their darlings, so I put together a list of the major problems I had with my manuscript. Hopefully, other writers will be able to take this and use it to help you with your own editing.
1) UNESSECARY SCENES: Yes, you know what I mean. Those scenes that were so fun to write, and so cute in your mind, but do absolutely nothing to move the plot forward. Those scenes may be witty, they may be quippy, but they also take up words, and distract from the main focal point of your story. You don’t want that. Ask yourself, if I take this scene out, will the story still make sense? If the answer is yes, or partly yes, don’t hesitate. Chop it out.
2) -LY WORDS: I will be the first to confess, I love adverbs. They make me happy. They are also the tool of a novice writer. I’m sorry. It had to be said. When I was editing, I myself didn’t realize how frequently I used -ly words. What really helps with this is if you press “crtl” and “f”, then search and highlight “ly” words. Many times, proliferous amounts of adverbs are not needed to highlight the action. And think of it like this, if you cut 5 -ly words off each page of a 400 paged manuscript, you’ve just pushed your word count down by another 2,000 words.
3) REPEAT THOUGHTS: Okay, I’m not sure if other writers struggle with this one. Personally, when I am first writing, often I will find myself struggling to explain a phrase/action/thought/situation/etc. with the end result of repeating what I want to say in multiple forms. For example, “Cathy isn’t sure she can explain herself. She spends much of her time clarifying what she wants to say.” Those two sentences held the same meaning, but by cutting one out, I’ve not only made my story more compact, I’ve also focused more attention on the action because the narration cuts straight to the point.
4) PASSIVE VERBS: Hehehe… I really do struggle with this one. In my original 146,000 word manuscript, there were at least 5-10 of these on each page. Ridiculous isn’t it? Examples of passive verbs include: AM, IS, ARE, WAS, WERE, BE, BEING. No, you cannot eliminate them all, and you do need them in certain places, but just keep in mind that they take away from the overall impact of the story.
5) LENGTHY DESCRIPTIONS: As a writer, it is understandable that you want to decorate every scene, every action, every character with gory details. After all, you want your readers to see your story just as you do. What you don’t realize is you are taking half the fun out of reading. As a reader, I enjoy creating my mental movies of the books that I read, and lengthy descriptions kill my excitment. When you are describing, understand that no action is occuring. Without action, you don’t have a story. Frequently overdescribed things are: weather, hair color, which is second only to eye color, and lighting (yes, I plead guilty).
6) VAGUENESS: You know… those sections that you wrote at 3 am in the morning after studying all day for a neurophysiology final and don’t really make sense in any context whatsoever and run on for all eternity until you start questioning if you were inhaling mind altering powders as you were typing this which is unlikely but then again after neurophysiology anything is possible. Yeah. Those sections.
Well, that’s all I can think of currently. Please do remember that these are things I noticed most in my own writing, and everyone’s writing style is different. If you have other notes or advice, let me know and I will add them to the list.