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Thursday, April 8, 2010

Chopping away at the dictionary-heavy manuscripts

After reading lots of blogs, critiquing lots of queries and struggling with this in my last novel I found many ways how you can chop at your manuscript without completely chopping off all the meat and only leaving the bones. Many writers I know have a tendency to over write. Let’s just say some novels run up to 200,000 and over and that is way too long unless you are a known author. For me this current revision of Overcast Shadows I planned everything out chapter by chapter and ended a little fewer than 88,000 which was perfect, but how did I keep it so low, considering the amount of story I have packed up in like 350 pages. Here are my tips and I hope they can help you if you are running into this problem.

• Focus on the action and what is happening. Do spend time on describing the setting, emotions and the way your character thinks but don't spend ten pages describing the velvet cloth that covered the mahogany brown bed. Over description can dull the story down and will make you word count higher than needed.

• Some scenes are unnecessary. Keep scenes that are crucial for the story to move on. Also make sure that every scene keeps the story progressing because if it doesn't it simply shouldn't be there.

• Don't write things like: James noticed that or James saw this. Believe me once I took all that out and rewrote it with real prose it cut nearly 1,000 words which was quite surprising. Instead switch that with describing what James saw to the reader.

• Take out unneeded words. You have to be very clear and concise when writing so its easy for any level reader to follow the story. Some words which shouldn't be there way too many times. Search and find them and you will see how many you can really take out. Here is a list I came up wit from many different sources and from my personal experience. (In no particular order):

• Very

• And Also

• Extremely

• Basically

• Considered to be

• Kind of

• Literally

• The reason why is because

• On account of

• Strangely

• Unadvisable

• Thus

• Thusly

• Really

• of

• Regardless

• Quite

• Fairly

• Sometimes

• Often

• However

• Many

• Interesting

• Amazing

• Super

• Suddenly

• Hopefully

• Slightly

• Avoid Fragmented sentences

• And last but not least keep a very rough outline or synopsis that you can follow so that you won't go off course. So how about you? How do you keep your word count from exploding?


  1. OMG! I'm totally doing a grammar police thing on this in a few weeks!! You are so right. I cut over 300 words from my ms just taking out all the "just". Crazy, right?

    Good post!


  2. VERY was the evil word lurking everywere in my manuscript. Oh and WAS which I changed to active. Thanks Justine.

  3. But, I like fragmented sentences, she whines.

  4. You make some good suggestions. I need to go back and look for places where I say: "James noticed that." I'm sure I do that on occasion without thinking about it.

    I've also had to cut out unnecessary scenes to reduce my word count. I think I had about 120,000 words after the last draft. For the revision I'm working on now, I actually eliminated entire chapters that just weren't necessary and were slowing the story down.

  5. The 'noticed that' is really an issue for me as well sometimes. I really tend to over do it without noticing. Good Luck on your manuscript!

  6. Thanks for linking this to me. I need to do some serious chopping of my word count, and I'll re-read this page when I do. I learned so much from WriteOnCon that I need to implement in my manuscript.