How to lose 4000 words in eight days – the good way.

I needed a bit of a break from thinking about writing, so I took a bit of a break, but I just thought I’d share how my editing went.

Well… My writing was tighter than I thought, but I still cut over 4000 words out of it.

I only took out maybe four tiny scenes.

Would you like to know my secret?

Yes?

Well…






I read most of the book out loud. Yeah I know, tedious as hell, but one thing it does do is keep me focused on flow. When I read out loud, I immediately notice when the flow’s off. Or when the sentences are boring.

Another thing I got a lot was over-writing. If I said the sky is blue once, I don’t have to say it again two seconds later if it isn’t important to the story. So the best way I said it stays. The other doesn’t.

Sentences running too long when they sound better shortened got split. When you split a sentence, you tend to lose words. “Ands”, “buts”, “ases”, “becauses” etc. become unnecessary. He did something as another thing happened could possibly become Something happened. He did something. Depending on the sentence’s complexity, I lost at least a word.

Cutting to necessities, I changed phrases like: The exterior of the house to The house’s exterior. Two words gone because I changed the sentence. Another favorite: was “verb”-ing. The “was” goes the minute I simply change sentence’s tense.

Switching sentences to cut passive tense can lose three or four words for you.

Finally, I have one special word: that. I can’t believe how it infested my writing. I probably found five (yes. FIVE) sentences with three (yes. THREE) “thats” in them. *shudder*

Probably an anticlimactic answer to those of you who are new to editing. Still, one or two words per sentence might not sound like a lot, but when you’re dealing with thousands of sentences, those little bits at a time add up.

I probably cut many more words than 4000, but I had to put some in here and there to focus the characters’ motivations a bit more and so on.

What do you cut when you want to pare down words?


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A to Z Challenge: Cliche

When I draft, I’m not really fussed about specifics in my description. All I want to know is what’s happening, when, where and with who. Sometimes it’s nice to know what the who’s and where’s look like.

So my first draft (and rewrite, for that matter) is riddled with cliches. Riddled. Because let’s face it, Callan has jet black hair. And it’s referred to as such in my two rough drafts. When I edit, though, it’s time to change things up. Jet black hair is done. So is comparing it to a raven’s wing. What then, do I change it to?

Well… this is where us character-strong pantsers have a lot of fun. We just let the view point character tell us. For example, I have a half-elf referring to hair as a glossy ebony. Simple. Perfect sounding coming from him. And that’s the thing. Because it’s not about how you the writer would say something. It’s about how the character says something.

Remember what I said about characters having to act? It extends into narration. Because they have to sound right as well. And look right in the way they move. The perception of others have to fit the character doing the perceiving. If you get that right, and your character isn’t a cliche, you’ll pretty much cut out cliches in your word choices.

Which brings me to another point. Unless you’re trying to lampoon the heck out of them, stay away from stock characters. I’m not saying that the ugly guy isn’t evil. I’m just saying that there has to be more to a bad guy than being ugly and evil.

Or her…

Credit

You know, (ignoring the fact she’s wearing a wedding band) the most popular girl in school. Confident. Pretty. Just so make up and body. Cliche. Does that mean she has to go once you edit?

No, but if possible, you might want to explore her a bit more to add depth. Like the fact that she’s been living on 1200 calories a day – every day – for five years in order to look the way she does. And you know that perfect make-up? Ruin it with a few tears. And that confidence? Reveal (or just hint at) her many MANY insecurities. And if the story is about your character befriending her, maybe it’s a good idea to let them stay friends in the end. With them BOTH showing character growth.

So to sum it up, cliche avoidance is about knowing your characters. If you know how they think, you’ll know how they’ll describe something in fresh and beautiful ways. If you know all of your characters, you can add little bits of them into the story that will add that extra dimension they needed to become awesome.

Look out for these:

1) Phrases as old as time.

2) Characters that fall squarely into a trope with nothing to change it up.

3) Also, characters who are pretty much cliched except for the single token quirk. The readers won’t fall for it.

How do you fix cliches?

Removing the Scaffolding

Hi all, Today I welcome C.M. Keller. She’s here to write about Removing the Scaffolding and to market her new book, Screwing Up Time.





Mark Montgomery is a slacker content with his life. He’s a senior at New Haven Prep, has a great friend, and after graduation he’ll get a brand new sports car from his parents, assuming he stays out of trouble. Then, she comes into his life—Miranda with her I-just-escaped-from-a-Renaissance-Fair clothing. Only, she hasn’t. She has come from Bodiam Castle in the Middle Ages and demands a secret ingredient and a book of recipes for traveling through the treacherous colors of time. Although Mark has never even heard of either before, he must find them, or Miranda will die. To save her, Mark must break into a psych hospital to visit his grandfather who once tried to kill him, pass through the colors of time, take on a medieval alchemist, prevent Miranda’s marriage to a two-timing baron, and keep it all hidden from his parents. The sports car is definitely in trouble.

Screwing Up Time is available on Kindle and Nook

Now, without further ado, here’s C.M. Keller on Removing the Scaffolding:



First of all, I’d like to thank Misha for allowing me to guest blog for her today. I hope to share some of what I’ve learned in my years of writing—just because I had to bang my head against the wall of writing ignorance doesn’t mean you have to.


Every writer knows that after we finish the first draft, we need to edit. We have to fill the landslide-sized plot holes, rid our manuscript of characters whose original purpose we’ve forgotten, and murder our darlings. But this post addresses the editing that comes after that. The editing that we sometimes avoid because it’s tedious and because the next novel is already seducing us. (Resist your lust for new plot lines a bit longer.)

These secondary edits are an opportunity to take your writing to the next level. I call this stage “removing the scaffolding.” Think of it this way, when art restorers finish repairing a frescoed ceiling, they have to take down the scaffolding. Otherwise, no one can see the fresco. Similarly, writers need to remove their scaffolding—the words and phrases that supported the first draft. For example, when I’m writing a first draft and can’t think of the perfect word/phrase, I substitute an adequate one. This isn’t bad. In fact, it’s a good thing because it keeps me from getting bogged down and I can get the story on paper while the passion and energy are hot. (If you struggle with this, I’d recommend Stephen King’s book On Writing.) But once the story’s on paper, those supports have to go.

Every writer has his/her own structural supports, but here are some that writers, myself included, often use. For example, to provide the “beats” the dialogue needs, I often have a character make a physical movement. However, by the end of the first draft I have so many shook his/her heads that the characters’ necks should’ve snapped and their skulls ought to be rolling on the ground. I also end up with more look/looked/looking than you’d believe possible. Not to mention the myriads of he/she ran a hand through his/her hair—they do this so often, you’d think every character must have a serious case of eczema or lice. 

If you’re nodding your head and thinking “I do that too,” don’t be discouraged. Remember those supports were important—they were the scaffolding that held the story together as you wrote it. But now, they must be removed. So how do you go about it? One way I’ve seen writers deal with word repetitions is to use synonyms. And “looked” becomes glanced, perused, spied, peeked, peeped, etc., etc. Do NOT do this. All it does is tell the reader that you have a really good thesaurus. The way to a beautiful novel is to replace the adequate beats and repetitions with texture. In other words, the beat must advance the plot or teach the reader more about the character. If not, it’s called a “cheap beat” and says “I’m An Amateur” in blinking neon lights. 

Good beats read like this:

            “You mean you’ve—” Martin swallowed and his necktie climbed his swollen gorge.  

From Beyond the Bedroom Wall by Larry Woiwode, National Book Award finalist. Here we know that not only is Martin surprised and upset, he’s so straight-laced that with a big swallow, his too-tight tie climbs his neck.

            “…He decided one day to join the black horses in the mountains. One night during a terrible storm he was struck by lightning. The lightning burned him all black. He was killed. That is the end of the story.”

            There was silence. Through my open windows came the murmurous sounds of the surf.
            “I don’t like that story,” I said finally.

From Davita’s Harp by Chaim Potok. Here the silence and the sounds give us the melancholy mood and foreshadow the boy’s response.

(Emerson and Amelia are discussing how to preserve a painting.)

            “A solution is precisely what it is. A mixture of weak tapioca and water, brushed on the painting—”

             “You said brushing marred the paint.”

            “I brush it on with my finger.”

             I starred at him with reluctant admiration.

             “You are determined, I’ll say that for you.”

From Crocodile on the Sandbank by Elizabeth Peters, New York Times bestselling author. Here we see the repartee both spoken and unspoken between the characters—and we get the sense that they have a unique but happy relationship.

I know what you’re thinking. It’s hard to write like that. Yeah, it is. But you can do it. After all, if you’ve completed a novel, the hardest part is already behind you. Do it. You know you can.

For more information on “scaffold editing,” I highly recommend the book Don’t Sabotage Your Submission by Chris Roerden, a former independent book editor for authors published by St. Martin’s, Midnight Ink, Viking, Intrigue, Rodale, and others. 



Thanks so much for the great post, Connie! Good luck with your sales!

I know that I can sometimes overuse some of my beats. I really have to pay attention to them when I edit. Which beats do you overuse?