3 Simple Ways To Reduce Your Word Count

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.)

 

7 Great Authors Take on the “RULES OF WRITING”

We’ve all heard about the RULES we need to follow in order to be “good” writers. No adverbs, no passive voice, no split infinitives, show don’t tell, limit dialogue tags to “said” & “asked”, use only one POV per chapter―these are just a few of the absolutes we’re faced with every day.

I’ve heard some RULES that are downright silly, such as: only one comma per sentence; no more than 4 sentences per paragraph; no conjunctions. The latest one to make the make the rounds is “no gerunds”, where most proponents of the RULE think a gerund is any word ending in “ing”. (It’s not. In fact, the only two gerunds in this article are “writing” and “painting”. For more info, read this post.)

The problem, it seems to me, is taking the style choice an author has made and proclaiming it a universal RULE.

Yes, I said “style choice”. You can decide that adverbs are not for you, that you always want to show and not tell, or to use no dialogue tags at all. A thriller writer may make some choices that a literary writer might denounce. But imagine if everyone took their favorite style choice and pronounced it a RULE for all to follow. That would almost surely lead to a cookie-cutter approach to writing, and individual creativity would suffer.

What would the state of literature today be if Faulkner followed Hemingway’s choices? if Fitzgerald was ruled by Cervantes? if Cain followed Chaucer’s? Cormac McCarthy consistently uses only the period and comma as punctuation. Should we all, as modern writers, follow his example?

pile of books

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Don’t be so blinded by the authority behind a RULE that the choice you make hurts instead of helping. Focus on the rhythm of your work first―do you want staccato or lyrical? are you chasing a serial killer or relating a love story? or maybe both in one novel? There is no RULE that says you can’t have it all as you craft your manuscript.

The rhythm you seek will give you the choices that best benefit your story. Then you can join the ranks of these esteemed authors who know all the RULES and when to break them:

Truman Capote: Writing has laws of perspective, of light and shade just as painting does, or music. If you are born knowing them, fine. If not, learn them. Then rearrange the RULES to suit yourself.

Henry David Thoreau: Any fool can make a RULE, And any fool will mind it.

Scott Turow: I think that you must be aware of the existing conventions. …That does not mean that you cannot reinvent them in your own way.

Anne Rice: …any RULE you hear from one writer [that] doesn’t work for you, disregard it completely.

Neil Gaiman: The main RULE of writing is that if you do it with enough assurance and confidence, you’re allowed to do whatever you like. (That may be a RULE for life as well as for writing. But it’s definitely true for writing.) So write your story as it needs to be written. Write it honestly, and tell it as best you can. I’m not sure that there are any other RULES. Not ones that matter.

G. K. Chesterton: I owe my success to having listened respectfully to the very best advice, and then going away and doing the exact opposite.

Joyce Carol Oates: Best tip for writers: not to listen to any silly tips for writers.

#Edit or #Revise? Why not both?

In the craft of writing, editing is accepted as a necessary evil. We all realize that our sentences must be properly punctuated, our noun/verb combinations must agree, our sentence and paragraph structure must meet certain recognizable norms.

Yes, there are exceptions. Books are written in verse. Writers experiment with no dialogue tags, single-sentence paragraphs, and chapters that consist of fewer than 10 sentences. And at least one author, Cormac McCarthy, has eschewed the use of almost all punctuation.

But for most of us, editing is an acceptable, if somewhat mundane, chore.

Revision, on the other hand, is greeted with wailing and gnashing of teeth. Revision is “hard”. Revision is “based on someone else’s opinion” and is “not the way I write.”

Yet revision can be the most satisfactory part of writing.

cat on book

I’m not talking about the “Revise & Resubmit” advice an agent or editor may give, and which any author is free to accept or reject. I’m talking about recognizing the shortcomings in our own work, and making a concerted effort to improve them.

In a previous post, I talked about the books, primarily mysteries, that my grandmother and my mother have bequeathed to me. A few days ago, I was reading one by Ed McBain, an author very popular in the 70s-90s, whose style of terse conversation and fact-based investigation is a bit Hemingway-esque. McBain’s most popular book is probably HEAT, and if you’ve ever seen that movie FUZZ where Burt Reynolds dresses up as a nun to catch the bad guy, you know the one I mean. But the point is, in this book, POISON, McBain waxed poetic over the weather. Not the spring or summer weather, or even autumn. But winter weather.

It was unexpected, and breathtakingly beautiful. I can do that, I says to myself. In my first novel, WHISPERS IN THE CANYON, I have a scene where the winter weather is at the heart of a conflict. I can make it much more dramatic. I can almost make it a character – an antagonist – in its own right.

That started me off. The next question was: where do I have weather? Or time of day? Or anything that has to do with the characters’ surroundings. I can do this. I will do this!

In most cases, it doesn’t take much. The description of a table as old and scarred; of a porch as sagging around its posts; of a cabin with grass that’s been seared to gray. Sometimes the scene calls for more than a few words. As an example, I’ve made a change at a critical point in the story. I started out with:

When he left her, the night was at its darkest hour.

Everyone’s heard “it’s always darkest before the dawn.” Most of us have spent at least one night awake, drunk or sober (oops, did I say that?) and have experienced it for ourselves. The sentence as it stands brings that idea to the mind of the reader.

But so much more has happened, so much terror and heartache was revealed in the previous chapter, that the opening was really, really trite. Revision created this:

When he left her, the night was at its darkest hour. The stars had faded, the tired old moon had set. But the night was no blacker than the wound on his heart.

And now, it’s not just a dark hour in the night. There’s a complete lack of light. And a more complete understanding of the character’s emotions.

Revising is difficult, yes. It takes a lot of time, a lot of thought, and a whole lot of willingness to look at those perfect words we wrote and find a way to make them better.

No one can deny the importance of editing – every comma needs to be in its place, every pronoun needs to refer to the right person. But revision – I’ve come to believe that’s what makes the difference between a good book and a great one.

What are you working on now, and what specific revisions have you made or do you intend to make?