Embarrassing but true, I cut 5,000 words of fluff

by Amber Keyser
Published on: June 12, 2013
Categories: Craft, Other Topics
Comments: 1 Comment

word count massacreRevision comes in many shapes and sizes, and to be honest, I find most of them quite painful.  I love what happens as a result of revision.  My manuscripts are better, cleaner, truer and more alive because of the process, but it hurts.  That’s okay.  I eat chocolate at 10:00 am and swig coffee and play with silly putty and I get it done.

And sometimes (because I am a little crazy), I graph it!  The Scrivas have blogged about how we use graphs to identify strengths and weaknesses (Graphs and Charts, Oh My), but I’m not sure we’ve used them as progress reports before.

So here’s the deal…

I have written a YA novel called THE HUNT FOR MARA LAYIL under contract for Relium Media.  It is part of a broader transmedia property called ANGEL PUNK that has multiple storytelling platforms–comics, gaming, fan engagement, and film.

I’ve been working on the book for about two years.  It has been through the wringer of many Scriva critiques.  It has also been professionally edited by the divine Emma Dryden of drydenbks.  I did several major developmental edits as well as the more precision-targeted line-by-line edits.  I went through the thing MANY times.  It was in GOOD shape (I thought).

90,000 words of well-crafted, explosive prose.  (Right?)

Then Relium Media brought agent, Kirsten Neuhaus from Foundry Literary, onto the team.  Kirsten is smart, dynamic, and best of all she gets the transmedia aspect of the ANGEL PUNK property.  She loved the book (see, it was in good shape), but she wanted me to cut 5,000 words.

*jaw drops to floor*

What was I going to cut?  Seriously, I’ve been through that thing.  I need all 5 points-of-view.  I need all those scenes.  I have subplots!

Kirsten was pretty specific in her guidance.  “Don’t cut anything big.  Just cut the fluff.”

The task at hand was to tighten the prose.  I figured out my goal: sixteen words a page.  Before I got to work, I decided (since I’m a dork that way) to graph my progress as a way to both track the goal and to encourage myself along.  I entitled the file Word Count Massacre.

And you know what?  I did it, and it wasn’t even hard.

When I read with an eye for words that weren’t doing sufficient heavy-lifting, I found them.  I learned I have a habit of saying things twice in different ways as if I couldn’t decide which was better and so doubled-up.  I learned that I state things that can be infered from the text.  (For example: She picked up her fork and ate a piece of cheesecake.  Smart readers know that She ate a piece of cheesecake probably means with a fork.)  I sometimes use complicated language such as she was in the process of looking back when she looked back is fine.

It was crazy and good.  Now I know that I will NEVER send a manuscript out without doing a read through for the fluff.  Thanks, Kirsten!  That was damn good advice (and yet another reason agents rock)!

Post Revisions:

This post has not been revised since publication.

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  1. Kiersi says:

    YES! Man, that’s a pretty tough order. Nice job. I used to have a lot of trouble with “distance” words (that, heard, saw) and a few revisions beat it out of me–still catch myself using them when I’m too lazy to write tight prose, though. Great post. Congrats, Ambs.

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