Let’s dive right in, because, after all, this is quick and easy, right?
The book is done. The editor has done her job. She’s killed my duplicate words, found the missing ones, and even added in those commas I missed. Everything is polished, the formatting complete.
It’s kill time. I pull out my handy, dandy writer’s journal and open to page 12. Yes, they are numbered. If it didn’t come that way, I’d number them myself. And to learn more about that, watch my YouTube channel for info on the upcoming FREE class on how I set up and add to my collection of writer helps and prompts. It’s nothing anyone can’t do on his or her own, but it’s more fun with a group of other paper nerds, no?
Anyway. That page is just a list of words that I check after every book is finished. It’s a long list. It sounds like it’ll take forever, but it really doesn’t. If I type in “really” and see 100 pop up, I’ll scroll down the find pane and make sure most if not all are in dialogue. If I see 1000 of them, then I start hitting that down button and deleting every last one I can.
Look, I have about 75 words on that list. I don’t look at every single instance of every one That isn’t quick, even if it is easy. But at this point, I’ve just read through it a few times, right? I’ll have a decent idea if it’s one I might want to check. But even if I do every single word on there, that’s just over an hour to check out what’s up with a 90K word book!
2. Check word count.
So you’ve got this scene. Select it and count the words. Do they reflect the amount of action or “movement” in the scene? Is it five hundred words showing how the man walked into the empty diner, covered in blood, and the server didn’t even notice until she went to take his order, or is it two thousand words doing the SAME thing… but with way too much lead-in. (Not that I’ve ever written that scene when I was supposed to be writing something else. *whistles* Perhaps I should go over the SADS post again.)
Sure, you want to set the tone. You do. It’s important. But you also want to make sure that you don’t have as much or more “set up” as you do action. It may have worked for Dickens to have eighty pages describing a room (slightly exaggerated for effect. a.k.a. “hyperbole”), but you’re not being paid by the word. So, only leave in the words that count.
For example, instead of showing that server having a long, exhausting morning, having to roll silverware and make sure everything is ready for the lunch rush… just cut it all down to the mess of restaurant, and her back to the door as she hears someone come in. Show her frazzled but unconcerned. Then show her at the table. We don’t NEED all that other stuff. Chop it out!
But the easiest way to find that fluff is to look at a scene and see just how much “lead in” to the scene there is compared to the word count of the scene. For more on cutting excess stuff in your novel, check out K. M. Weiland’s post, HERE.
3. Create a scene list.
Yes, after the story is over, scroll through your manuscript (super easy if you use Scrivener to write and you name each scene something super short so you can just drag that binder to the right so you can read it all and BAM! You have the list before you. Otherwise, just scroll down and write short fragment about the contents.
- Building blows up
- Officer in hospital—sees suspicious person
- Nurse saves officer from death—dies
- Man arrives home from work smelling funny
- Kid makes funny joke at dinner table
- Police chief suppresses information
- Officer is released—guilt drives him to work too early
- Police chief sends him home—says something suspicious
- Officer goes to exploded building. Finds fancy cigarette butt
- Girl flirts with him
So here, you can probably guess that the funny joke is great but could be cut OR interjected in a much smaller scale into another scene. But maybe not. Maybe that joke gave the man an idea. The girl flirting. Is she actually an undercover officer for the police chief, or is she going to become a main character? Maybe the police chief sending him home is just fluff. He can overhear that suspicious thing somewhere else. So we lose a whole fluffy scene just by scanning that list to see if there are places that just don’t need to be there.
(One quick, easy way to do this is in Scrivener. Name each of your scenes with a main thing that happens in there. BAM! done. You know every scene at a glance and don’t have to make that list. Just check them out!0
Warning before you cut the fluff from your novel:
There are those who would have you trim your stories to the barest bones of action. And if you’re writing suspense without much relational development, maybe you should. But you can strip the life from your stories by being too harsh in your trimming. Yes, skim through, write a quick list, make sure what’s in that list should be there. But don’t kill the life from your story.
￼A bonus. Train yourself to avoid cliches and redundancies—those little phrases that we say all the time. Things like “emergency situation.” If it’s “an emergency” then it’s “an emergency situation.” Cut the situation.
Or take, “past memories.” Look, if they’re memories, they’re in the past, okay? So learn the most common and cut them suckers as you write. Give a list of them to your editor and ask him or her to make sure you cut as many as possible. HERE is a list for you just to make it easier.
As for those cliches, avoid them. At all costs! 😉 And if you need a list of those, you can find one HERE.