Monday, February 20, 2012

Writing Help True Confessions - I write long

Hi, my name is Cathy and I have a secret...

I write too long.

Whether it's a blog post, a magazine article, a short story or a novel, I write until I'm done writing and it's always long. Every time. Now, most published writers, along with editors and agents will tell you to 'write until you're done' but that's only somewhat true. See, there are times when it's not in your best interests---especially when you're starting out.

I started writing for newspapers and magazines before I turned to novels and when a newspaper says "one column inch" they MEAN one column inch. When you sell a magazine article of 1,500 words, 1,499 should be your goal. A short story anthology that wants 7,000 words won't want 10,000. A category romance which needs 85,000 to fit the pre-cut cover stock simply can't squish in 120,000. Can't be done, no matter how much you shrink the font and narrow the gutters (margins).

So what to do? How do you go about trimming your masterpiece? Fortunately, it's easier than you think. Here are some of the tricks I use when I'm a thousand or even ten thousand words too long:

1. The word "that" is evil. EVIL, I say. Nearly everybody does this because it's proper grammar and we all learned it in school. But few people actually SAY the word, so it can be pulled out of nearly every bit of dialogue you have without effect (you'll be surprised how many there are!) What do I mean? Here's an example:

"I think that we should go to the mall today."

"I think we should go to the mall today."

Which sounds more like what people would say? The second one is more natural. The first one sounds stilted. Unless your character has a very formal personality, you can safely eliminate most of the 'that's. If you have the nerve, do a global search for "that" you'll be both surprised and slightly horrified how many there are.

2. Does the reader REALLY need to know that cute little bit of backstory about the time the heroine fell out of the tree? Does it really matter to the plot, or is it just a nice bit of chit-chat while she and the hero are on their first date (or while in the hospital waiting room, or whatever.) Slash and burn, baby. When you're over word count, the editor is depending on you to make hard choices.

3. Sometimes, the literary metaphor can be trimmed. Do you REALLY need to say that her eyes are "shining emerald orbs" or would "green" work just as well? It's two words down and over a hundred instances that adds up.

4. People speak in contractions. They just do. Use won't, don't, isn't (and even ain't, depending on your character) plus can't, doesn't, wouldn't, couldn't and shouldn't. Again, unless your character is a very formal speaker, a typical American really does use contractions more often than not. Do a global search for "will not", "do not", "is not" etc., to see if you can shorten.

Those are a few of my quick tips that won't require you to cut important scenes. What do YOU do to trim word count? Or have you never considered the possibility you might have to? I'm interested to know!


No comments:

Post a Comment