If you’re like me, when you get to the end of a manuscript, you’re a few thousand (or maybe ten thousand) words over the optimal word count for your genre.
A lot of common editing advice can make a difference in MS length. Directives like “find stronger verbs” will eliminate some adverbs, while “make sentences tighter” can increase tension while removing excess verbiage. Condensing descriptions is also a good way get your word count down.
I’m going to assume you’ve done all that and your numbers are still not under control. What more can you do?
Here are three more ideas that can help bring your word count:
A. Contract “not”, especially in dialogue. Use “didn’t”, “couldn’t”, “wouldn’t”, etc. instead of “did not” “could not”, “would not” et al. Since “did not” counts as two words and “didn’t” as one, it adds up quickly. I eliminated almost 2000 words in a 108k manuscript with this single trick.
Word of caution: I tried doing a “search & replace” for “not” with a universal change to “n’t”, and got sentences that looked like this:
I willn’t go to the party on Saturday.
I told hern’t to spend more than twenty dollars.
UGH! Fortunately, an immediate “undo” took care of that fiasco. To search & replace efficiently, make sure you put a space before “not” in the search box and no space before “n’t” in the replace box. Then pick through the changes individually. It’s still faster than reading through to find them all.
B. Look for “and then”. It’s not only redundant but contradictory. “And” implies “in addition to”, while “then” implies “thereafter”. Each situation should only need one of these words.
C. Create a Word Cloud. In addition to showing words you use too often, a study of it will bring a focus to words you don’t need. In a recent cloud, I found “back” was one of my highest rated words. When I looked at the MS, I found most of them attached to verbs that didn’t need it (eg: sat back down, looked back out the window). I was able to eliminate so many of them, “back” disappeared from my cloud. I use the Word It Out program because (1) it’s FREE, and (2) it can analyze an entire manuscript in just a few moments. But it’s only one of many options out there.
So now you know which words you want to look at, but doesn’t it mean going through the entire MS again to find them?
No, because there’s an easy way to identify the words you’re interested in:
1. Input a word or phrase into the “find” function of your WP software;
2. Click “Find All”;
3. Click “Highlight” before moving on to the next word.
This process will mark every usage of each word for you. If you highlight every word on your list before you start to edit, you can run through your manuscript once, and you only have to read enough of each passage to make the appropriate decision.
Now tell me, do you have any time-saving editing tricks up your sleeve? (Asking for a friend who really needs to know.)