Trimming the fat

April 29th, 2011 · No Comments »

As I prepare the second draft of Bad Grammar (so I can inflict it upon a new reader), I’m doing one of the things I love best when editing – trimming the fat.

When I write, I try to be economical with words, and my training in screenwriting ensures I get straight into the action (with little time for descriptions or contemplation). I always feel my writing is tight, sometimes too tight, but this simply isn’t true!!

The book was at 203 pages and 45,000 words yet I have passed my ‘editing eyes’ over less than half of the manuscript and already I’m down to 197 pages and 43,000 words. 2000 words gone simply by cutting out what was unnecessary. Turns out there’s quite a lot of fat and I’m sure there are still more words to slay. Once an editor gets their taloned claws into it (hi my lovely editor!!) they’ll find another thousand words to chuck out.

Rather than feel sad at losing words, it is more of a relief – I, like the book, feel lighter.

So what are some of my crimes? I repeat myself while trying to put emphasis on a particular idea, rather than writing the idea in an interesting way. I waste time with detail that doesn’t advance the story. I fall in love with phrases that clog the flow.

What I find the most rewarding part is reading a chapter once you’ve removed the unnecessary stuff – it flows smoothly and feels more alive.

Here is a passage to demonstrate what I mean:

Spike is passing and he must have been listening because he stops walking and his head turns in our direction. A smile reveals teeth.

‘Not happy with the food, guys?’ he asks.

Fred and Trent say nothing, they just look down at the table. I’m too late though, I don’t move my head quickly enough and Spike makes eye contact with me.

‘You know what makes it taste better?’ Spike asks me.

I shake my head.

‘A bit of seasoning.’ Spike walks over to my seat and leans over me.

I hear him conjure up spit and phlegm from inside his mouth and the back of his throat, and then he releases it all in a thick flow from his mouth right on top of my cereal.

‘Give that a try,’ he tells me and there’s laughter from all sides of the room.

I’m going to get this guy. I’m going to cut off his stupid Mohawk while he is sleeping. I’m going to glue his Mohawk back onto his face in weird places. I’m going to make him regret he ever tried picking on me.

Word count: 186

A revised look at the passage, sentence by sentence:

Spike is passing and he must have been listening because he stops walking and his head turns in our direction. A smile reveals teeth.

Notes: This is a long convoluted sentence with so much unnecessary detail.

Revision: Spike snaps his head our way. A smile reveals teeth.

‘Not happy with the food, guys?’ he asks. Fred and Trent say nothing, they just look down at the table. I’m too late though, I don’t move my head quick enough and Spike makes eye contact with me.

Notes: Again there is a lot of detail here and the sentence is sluggish.

Revision:

‘Not happy with the food?’ he says.

Fred and Trent avert their eyes. I’m too late though – Spike makes contact.

‘You know what makes it taste better?’ Spike asks me.

I shake my head.

‘A bit of seasoning.’ Spike walks over to my seat and leans over me.

I hear him conjure up spit and phlegm from inside his mouth and the back of his throat, and then he releases it all in a thick flow from his mouth right on top of my cereal.

Notes: There are some unnecessary words here. For instance, why write ‘Spike asks me’ – who else would he be asking? Where else do you conjure up spit and phlegm other than in your mouth? Where else can you drop spit but ‘on top’ of cereal? I’ve used the word mouth twice. We know Spike is near so we don’t need to have him walk over and lean over the bowl – the reader can fill in these blanks.

Revision:

‘You know what’ll make it taste better?’ Spike asks.

I shake my head.

‘A bit of seasoning.’ Spike conjures up a thick volume of spit and phlegm and releases it on my cereal.

‘Give that a try,’ he tells me and there’s laughter from all sides of the room.

I’m going to get this guy. I’m going to cut off his stupid Mohawk while he is sleeping. I’m going to glue his Mohawk back onto his face in weird places. I’m going to make him regret he ever tried picking on me.

Notes: Could be a little tighter. Again don’t need ‘he tells me’ – who else would he be telling?

Revision:

‘Give that a try,’ he says.

There’s laughter from all sides of the room.

I’m going to get this guy. I’m going to cut off his stupid Mohawk while he is sleeping. I’m going to glue his Mohawk onto his face in weird places. I’m going to make him regret this.

So here’s the final final passage that is a lot tighter (but with no action cut out):

Spike snaps his head our way. A smile reveals teeth.

‘Not happy with the food?’ he says.

Fred and Trent avert their eyes. I’m too late though – Spike makes contact.

‘You know what’ll make it taste better?’ Spike asks.

I shake my head.

‘A bit of seasoning.’ Spike conjures up a thick volume of spit and phlegm and releases it on my cereal.

‘Give that a try,’ he says.

There’s laughter from all sides of the room.

I’m going to get this guy. I’m going to cut off his stupid Mohawk while he is sleeping. I’m going to glue his Mohawk onto his face in weird places. I’m going to make him regret this.

Word count: 114 – That is a weight loss of 72 words!!

It’s not yet perfect but it just shows you how much things can be cut down without losing the meaning.

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