Elie Wiesel said, “Writing is not like painting where you add. It is not what you put on the canvas that the reader sees. Writing is more like a sculpture where you remove, you eliminate in order to make the work visible.”
I just stole that quote from Susan Wiggs’ blog (http://susanwiggs.wordpress.com/) and I could not agree more. That’s what I’ve been trying to do with Rent…have officially cut over 10,000 words from the original draft of 41k now. Another 800 words and I’ll finally be in the running to enter it in the Brava Novella contest. It can’t be over 30k.
Probably all seasoned writers know this, but I’m just learning it. Trim the fat and wow…does it help!
Writers out there, here’s an experiment: make yourself cut 25% from a work in progress. You don’t even have to keep the “cut” version if you don’t want to…save your original version and work in a “test file” if you like.
This kind of “slice and dice” mandates some serious rethinking of communication. You CANNOT write “puffy” if you can only keep 3 words out of every 4; you have to cut to the chase.
Get this, there are 4 adverbs in this story now. Ha! I had over 500, and I convinced myself I needed to keep 4 for clarity. (Truth is I couldn’t come up with a better verb, so they stayed.) I cut most of the very’s also, which I think is also an adverb, but I can’t remember.
Dialogue tags: lots of room to cut here too. If it’s obvious who is talking from the conversation, I cut them. If there are only 2 people talking, I cut a lot of them. Oh, and I *really* cut them when I could reword them to begin a new sentence. For example:
“I’m about done in for the day,” she said, taking another sip of her coffee.
Which I reworded to:
“I’m done in.” She took another sip from the steaming mug.
“about” was throat-clearing, “for the day” was redundant…when else would a person be done in? next week? LOL But here’s what I was talking about: there is no need to have “she said, taking”…etc. So, I made a new sentence. From 15 words down to 11. That’s 25% (actually 27%).
Bad news is I’ve still got the damn “to be” verb in there. I’ve convinced myself it’s okay in conversation (mostly because I can’t figure out how to reword it without adding a bunch of words).
I also killed sentences that basically rephrased previous sentences. I cut whole sections of conversation that could be skipped without any loss in the point of the scene. I cut internal dialogue that reiterated the same feelings the character had in the last scene. I consolidated description.
So, like this you can kill a week and a lot of words…
Now, here’s why I suggest doing it. The second version is better. Maybe not perfect, but definitely better. I would never go back to the last draft after doing this. First off, because it was too much work, and second because it’s tighter, cleaner, harder-hitting.
So, one thing I’m noting for myself from now on…write it long. Go ahead. Write it all and write it long. It’s going to get cut back to size later anyway. I had attempted (in other books) to compose the first draft “tight,” but I can’t do it. Now I’m looking forward to the second draft more because I can see how much it will improve the story.