Thursday, January 30, 2014

How to Slash Your Word Count

by Katy White

The book has been written, the critiques are in, and it's time to write what I hope will be to complete my final draft.  I hope to both fix the problems that have been brought to my attention and to get my 83k YA Contemporary down to, oh, 80k.  The problem in losing these 3000 words?  I've already slashed the scenes that I thought were superfluous.  So I need to cut the count by words alone. 


Below is a sampling of areas I'll focus on in my final revision.  

1)  That.  The word "that" certainly has its uses (and I'm sure you can think of myriad examples).  But it can also be a word count killer.  For example:

"He thought that I should stop eating so much ice cream."
"Eating an enormous spoonful in his face, I made it obvious that I didn't care."

In revising, I'll read lines like these out loud for the rhythm of the sentence and keep those that impact readability.   

2)  "Out of" vs. "from."  Every time I can replace "out of" with "from," I lose a word.  This can look like:

"She raced out of from the room."
"His callousness pulled her out of from her daze."

And it's an easy change to make when I use "CTRL+F" to find each instance of "out of" and evaluate if "from" fits, or not.

3)  Axe some dialogue tags.  Once I've established that two people are talking, I probably don't need "he said" and "she said" as often as I currently have them.  

4)  Stop over-explaining everything because I want my reader to see a scene exactly as I see it.  Just because I care that my character cocked his head to the side before saying something, does the reader really need to know that?  Sometimes, sure.  When it helps them better understand my character.  But not always.  Unless it's desperately important essential that you see my character's confusion, as opposed to her being upset or suspicious or some other emotion altogether, the head-cocking just isn't necessary.  In fact, the dialogue should really speak for itself in most cases.  This rule applies to my writing all the time.  (See, I even did it there?  I needed you to read this sentence exactly as I would have said it out loud, even though you really don't need that for comprehension.) 

5)  Remove redundancy.  Instead of saying, "Josh crept stealthily to the barn," why don't I just say "crept," shall I?  Stealth is implied.  And so long, phrases like "nodded his head" and "reached a hand." "Nodded" and "reached" will work just fine.

6)  Sayonara, adjectives and adverbs (where possible).  This sort of fits with the redundancy above, but where something isn't redundant, I probably just need to find a stronger verb.  And if it ends in -ly, I really need to evaluate its usefulness.  That's not to say every adjective or adverb will go, but some will;  the ones that stay will be purposefully kept.  I'll keep the others purposefully. 

The fact is, I'm still going to have needless words.  I'll miss some tightening opportunities, and I'll choose to forego others.   Yes, you read that right:  despite the constant harping in the writing community to make your writing as tight as absolutely possible, I won't.  I'll look at my voice, the flow of my sentences and paragraphs, keep what sounds nice, and only get rid of what sounds clunky.  Because I want to sound like me.  Just the best, tightest version of me (this rule does not apply to my aforementioned ice cream problem).  

Above are the opportunities I find when I revise, but you may find others when you do, and I'd love to hear them (as well as what I'm missing).  So, please, sound off below with your favorite slashing techniques!


  1. I've been looking for all my scenes to do more than one thing. If a scene exists just to lob a joke, or to tell us this one tiny bit of information, or to show us one thing about one character, then it needs to be cut. That stuff can all be worked in other places more efficiently.

    Luckily, I don't have to slash to meet word counts (adult fantasy is kind of sky's-the-limit, and I'm clocking in right around 100K all the time), but I DO need to slash words so the manuscript can be as tight and effective as possible.

  2. I love that tip. David Farland said the same thing, that a scene should accomplish three things (I think). It's tough, but it makes you rethink every scene when it needs to serve multiple purposes.

  3. Katy, this is not only good advice for slashing your word count, it's good writing advice, period. I find it very clever how you worked your own advice into your edited post! Numbers 3 through 6 are things I've only learned as I've been writing my first novel- and been avidly reading other novels and books about writing at the same time. They are all VERY good reminders that I should write on post-its and stick to my computer screen!! :-)

  4. Katy, this was actually pretty helpful. Thanks for the ideas.



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