Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Zap - there goes another sentence!

Paula is on a word-cutting marathon.   

I finally reached the end of the first draft of Irish Deceptions two days before Christmas and did a quick word count. Nearly 100K words, about 10K more than I was aiming for, but I wasn’t too worried. I’m very aware that I tend to over-write in a first draft, and that my characters sometimes talk too much!

A preliminary ‘quick’ edit of the whole thing brought the total down by about 800 words, but there was still a long way to go. Time to concentrate on each chapter in turn, and see what could be cut.

My main ‘rule of thumb’ is: how necessary is this speech/description/action? Does it add something to the story and/or to the reader’s understanding of the character? Is it repeating something that has already been said? Does it contain a lot of unnecessary detail?

With this in mind, I was able to either cut some of the dialogue in Chapter 1, or condense it. That’s probably the hardest part of editing, knowing what to cut and what to leave in and I’ll admit I tend to rely on my ‘gut instinct’ rather than on any writing ‘rules’. This brought the total wordage down from 4602 to 4396 – just over 200 words cut, mainly (in this particular chapter) by deleting unnecessary details.

The next step was what I call ‘tidying’ up – looking more at the ‘technicalities’ and dealing with unwieldy sentences, both in narrative and dialogue, by careful rephrasing. I also look carefully at dialogue, and try to lose some of the unnecessary words there like ‘Well’ and ‘Okay’. Doing this helps me to tighten up my writing, and I managed to lose another 150 words.

The third stage is to putting the chapter through Autocrit. One useful facility is the analysis of sentence length, and I check out any sentences longer than 30 words to see if I can split them or shorten them. Autocrit also highlights over-used and redundant words, ‘ly’ and ‘ing’ words, and unnecessary filler words like ‘then’ and ‘just’.

Last but not least, I read the chapter aloud, which is the best way of spotting ‘clunky’ sentences or dialogue that doesn’t sound right.

So yes, I’m been zapping a lot of words and sentences, and doing a lot of rewriting, with the result that after 6 or 7 hours work, I reduced the first chapter from 4602 words to 4108. Now I have to do the same with the next 24 chapters!


  1. It sounds like you're making great progress, Paula!

    I tend to go with more of 'gut instinct' rather than official writing rules as well. Although I do search and find for 'that', 'like', 'well', etc. All those extra words that I tend to use in an initial draft but aren't needed in the final version.

    Good luck zapping! If you can whittle 500 words from each chapter, you'll be in better than good shape. :)

    1. Autocrit always highlights far more extra words than I thought I used, as well as repeated words! My characters do too much 'glancing'!