Saturday, July 9, 2016

Extreme Word Dieting

By Lacey Gunter

Being a picture book writer, I spend a lot of time trimming out words. With the average picture book manuscript expected to be 500 words or less, every word counts. When people are often touting how many words they wrote during a certain period of time, I am often thinking about how many words I was able to eliminate.

Unless you are also writing for very young children, this is probably not a big worry to you. But there are many situations where a WIP needs to go on a serious word diet. The typical writer usually approaches this using techniques of elimination. Unfortunately, these techniques are often slow and difficult. If you have a lot of time on your hands and you like the hard work, great, keep at it. For the rest of us who are strapped for time, and really hate having things taken away, an addition technique may be just what you need.

Remember when you were young and you would strain to get a Band-Aid off ever so slowly, thinking somehow if you went slow enough you could just avoid the pain and your mom or dad would suggest just ripping it off quick and then the pain would all be over. Well, word dieting can work like that too. Instead of slowly and painfully removing a word at time, it might be better just to take it all out at once. You're probably wondering how in the world you trim off a large portion of your manuscript in one quick stroke.  Well I was speaking literally, as in take it ALL out, every single word. Open up a brand new blank writing document and there you go, all gone. Whew, Band-Aid off. That didn't hurt so much, did it?

Now that that's done, the rest isn't quite so bad, because all you have to do is add. People like adding, it's much more enjoyable than having things taken away. The only difficult part is playing gate keeper. But you can open and close doors pretty well, can't you? You've been doing since you were like 2-years old.  Simply let in only the parts that absolutely need to been there. With everything else, just keep the door shut. This is most easily done by adding a scene at a time. Start with the most important scene in the manuscript. After each scene added, read or see what you have. Ask if the story can stand on its own, does it make sense, is it good? If not, add another scene.  If so, then it's time to stop and close the door.

If you are concerned about all the lovely or awesome writing you have left outside, don't worry, you can save the new version under a different name. The old version doesn't have to disappear. It can be there any time you need to just go back and look at it. It can even be mined for good ideas and good writing in your next project. But don't be surprised if after reading the old version, you prefer the new, leaner version better.

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