Saturday, June 23, 2012

Overwriting Overkill


So, you’re an overwriter. You ramble. You rave. Trust me, I know. My first manuscript was 80K. My second was 125K. My third was 167K (I wish I were kidding). Obviously, being succinct is not one of my stronger areas.

Chances are, if you’re an overwriter, you will be cutting up your precious manuscript. You will be pressing the delete button over and over and over again. You will be highlighting entire paragraphs and passages and pages and trashing them. And it will hurt. A lot. But it’ll be worth it.

Recently, my agent asked me to cut 20K words from my manuscript. And I had absolutely no idea how. At all. My first day of Project Manuscript on Diet consisted of me staring at my computer screen, whimpering (again, I wish I were kidding). But lo and behold, three weeks later, I had turned a 115K manuscript into a 95K one. So for all of you overwriters out there with overweight manuscripts, I’ve compiled those three painful weeks into a few (succinct-ish) points.

Look for Repetition: You might have scenes that mirror each other in terms of setting, character development, plot development, etc. Those scenes have made it this far because you’re attached to them. So, detach yourselves from them. In the back of your minds, you probably already know that they aren’t necessary. You just like them. Trust in yourself as a writer—you will write such scenes of breathtaking beauty again. Then press delete.

Don’t be Redundant: One of my first critiques I ever received hit on that. The man pointed out that since I already wrote, “he spun around,” I didn’t need to add, “he demanded furiously” as a dialogue tag. It was already implied. It was a great piece of advice. But cutting those, my writing became a lot tighter. I think. *frowns at writing*

Combine Scenes: Some of your scenes actually must be kept, not for gorgeous writing, but for some less-major but very important things such as characterization, foreshadowing, etc. These scenes can’t be deleted, but they can probably be combined. If you cut half of the first scene and half of the second, you have cut a whole scene without losing anything important, correct? Then again, math is not my strongest subject…

Make a Commendable/Expendable Chart for your MS: Go through every chapter and write down what things are commendable, what things are expendable, and rate the importance of the chapter on a scale of 1 to 10. This will help. A lot. Seriously. It’s basically creating an overall plan to cut down on your novel. You don’t have to stick to everything, but it’ll definitely give you a place to start.

Cut a Line from Each Page: This is something I started doing during my last round of revisions. Basically, I made myself cut between six words and one line on each page. You realize that a lot of what you've written is actually unnecessary--clunky adjectives, overly dramatic passages, adverbs. It's amazing how many words you lose, without actually sacrificing any scenes.

I know, a lot of these things are easier said than done. Being an overwriter sucks because you end up having to cut A TON from your manuscript. But hopefully, these tips will help you create a tighter, faster-paced manuscript. And who knows, maybe one day, I'll figure out how to stop overwriting...

Okay. That's ridiculous. Sigh.

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