The editing task in front of me is daunting. The average novel runs about 350 pages and 85,000 words. The first draft of my manuscript weighed in at a scale-busting 130,000 words. Even though there are authors who get away with tomes of that length – Wally Lamb and J.K. Rowling come to mind – I’m not them.
I’ve never done this before, but I know one does not cut 30,000 words by eliminating ‘and’ and ‘the.’ I need to be brutal. So, I’ve waded in each day, one finger poised over the delete key, asking myself a number of questions.
Is this back story necessary? As I wrote, I built the scenes fully
. I needed to know, for instance, that my main character’s father was a second generation American whose grandparents came from Cambridgeshire, England. That he insisted all his children graduate from the 8th grade. That he was well read and active in civic organizations. All that went into my manuscript. Now, most of it is coming out. While the information contributes to who my characters are, readers probably don’t care. Plus, it slows the story down.
If back story is necessary, can I include it as part of dialogue or as action rather than exposition? I’ve found that a few well chosen details gleaned from the back story and slipped into a scene are far more interesting to read than paragraphs of prose.
Have I used two words when one will do? My tendency is to write long, to explain situations
in detail. People tell me they like the richness of my writing. But I know that one good example or a single word can be more powerful. I’m looking for the one word.
Is this info someplace else in the manuscript? Since I wrote the original manuscript over two years, making up much of the story line and developing the characters as I went, I didn’t realize until I read the whole story start to finish that there were bits of information I included multiple times. Finding those duplications is like finding editing gold. I only need the info once and sometimes not at all.
Does a scene move the story along? As I developed the story, I wrote lots of scenes. All of them beautiful. To me. But now that I have a firm grasp of my characters and point of view, I realize some scenes aren’t all that helpful. I take them out. But I love them, so I put them in an outtakes file. Just in case.
On this go round, my goal is to cut at least 10% from every section. Preferably 15%. Today, I started on a section with 13,700 words and have already cut 1,254. I’m getting there.
Recently someone commented that editing is like weeding a garden. An apt metaphor since I garden as well as write. I know that when I step into my garden, I have to be careful what I pull out, but generally I can pull a lot. That’s where I am as I edit. Pulling out a LOT!
Are there special techniques you use when you edit? Let me know. I can use all the help I can get!