Paula has had a ruthless cull of words.
I finished writing ‘Irish
Intrigue’ at the end of November. Finished, did I say? No, the hardest part has
been severe editing! For the last two months, as well as editing, I have been
The original story came out
at 122,336 words. Although my publisher/editor said, “Just use whatever words
are necessary to tell the story,” I knew in my own mind that 122K was too many.
My first cull of words
brought it down to 114K. That wasn’t too difficult, as there were several
scenes I could cut without losing any of the main story. I also reduced
conversations to their important elements—and stopped my characters from
rabbiting on unnecessarily.
But I still felt 114K was too
long. Autocrit helped me to reduce it even more – mainly by cutting repeated
words and phrases, tightening up sloppy writing, and (again) getting rid of
anything that wasn’t necessary. By this time I was down to 96,660 words i.e. I
had cut over 25,000 words from the original.
The final step has been a
‘fresh pair of eyes’ i.e a critique partner who hadn’t agonised with me over
all the earlier versions of this story. She has spotted places where I could
reduce the wordage still further, and as a result I’ve lost over another 3,000
words in the first two-thirds of the story. I am nearly down to my goal of
between 80 and 90K words.
What have I learnt from all
1. When you think a story is
‘finished’, it isn’t. Not by a long way – and not even if you’ve had critique
partners reading each chapter as you wrote it, and giving their ideas and
suggestions. Sometimes, a pair of fresh eyes can spot the areas that aren’t
necessary or don’t seem to work.
2. I’ve questioned whether
every scene is essential. In some cases, I’ve left in some scenes that might
not be considered totally essential, but only because to jump from one ‘major’
scene to the next one would be exhausting both for the reader – and the
characters, too. Even so, I’ve tried to make sure that these ‘in-between’ scenes
add something either to the storyline or to a character’s development.
3. I’ve also tried to stop my
characters doing too much internal agonising. It’s necessary at times, of
course, because the reader needs to know what they are thinking, but I know
have a tendency to overdo it, and/or repeat what the reader already knows.
4. I’ve stripped a lot of
conversations down to their bare essentials and tried to ensure they move the
story forward or reveal a character’s thoughts and feelings.
5. I’ve tightened up my
writing by being ruthless with words, and also by making paragraphs and
sentences more concise.
Reducing wordage by almost
30K was daunting at first, but it has been a very valuable exercise which,
hopefully, will stand me in good stead for future novels. It has highlighted
some of my ‘bad habits’ like being ‘over wordy’ and I shall be questioning
myself all the way in future. Is this scene necessary? Are these
conversations/thoughts necessary? What can I cut without losing the important
aspects of the story? Does every scene and every conversation add something to
the development of the plot or the characters?
Of course, doing such a huge
cull has meant I have lost some of the scenes or conversations I enjoyed – but sometimes
it is necessary to ‘kill your darlings’! Maybe I’ll be able to use some of them
in future stories.