Sunday, August 03, 2014

Trimming the Flab: A List

“The more you leave out, the more you highlight what you leave in.” ― Henry Green

My progress in reducing the word count of the ginormous manuscript about running my first marathon continues. I'm cutting unnecessary material, the flab. Sometimes an entire scene must go, but more often I whittle at the subcutaneous fat deep within the sentences. Here are some examples of things I trim:

1. Verbs that end in "ing:" "I was standing" becomes "I stood." This removes a word and turns the sentence from passive to active.

2. Forms of the verb "to be:" (were, is, are, be, being, etc.) I transform these with more powerful verbs. "There is a tree" turns into "A tree grows there" or "a tree stands there." Again, passive becomes active.

3. "Very, just, and simply:" These are words I use when I want to hedge my bets. "I just wept" becomes "I wept." "I'm very tired" becomes "I'm exhausted." "I simply couldn't manage" becomes, "I couldn't manage." I rarely find an instance when one of these words can't be removed.

4. "That:" I remove it and see if the sentence stands.

5. Unnecessary pronouns. "We sat down" becomes "We sat." "I stood up" becomes "I stood."

This list barely touches the possibilities. Feel free to add your own in the comments.

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Jack Burgess said...

Thanks for the tips/reminders. In addition to occasional poetry, I write newspaper columns. There I have an absolute word limit. I’ll write 1000 words, but need to cut it to 700, so all those “that’s,” etc., you just mentioned, have to go. Usually, I end up with stronger prose.

Juliet said...

I love reading specific editing tips. Thanks for sharing.