Editing Notes: Cutting Conscientiously

A few of my beta readers disagreed about one chapter. Beta #1 commented that it dragged on too long, and when I asked Beta #2 her opinion, she thought it was fine–it’s supposed to be a scene with drawn-out tension, not a punchy action sequence, so she didn’t feel the length was wrong.

But an author never wants to hear that something was dragging, so I investigated.

The entire chapter clocked in at 3200-ish words. That’s on the longer side of average for this book, but by no means the longest. Rather than hacking into the text from the very first sentence, I divided the chapter into sections and did a word count for each. (I also highlighted the text of each section a different color so I wouldn’t forget where I made the divisions–this is optional, but helpful.)

Section 1: “Establish the Setting and the Problem” – 800-ish words

Section 2: “Dealing with the First Problem and Discovering the Second” – 800-ish words

Section 3: “Goddamnit, We Are Going to Deal with This” – 1400-ish words

Section 4: “Everything’s Fine Now” – 200-ish words

Yeah, see that? Section 3 is approaching twice as long as Sections 1 or 2. So now, I know where the problem lies.

However. However. Since the complaint was that the section was dragging, not that things happened that didn’t need to, I didn’t cut any content. Everything that happened still happens.

So what did I cut?

  1. Unnecessary dialogue tags
  2. Prepositional phrases that expanded meaning or description, but weren’t vital
  3. Stage direction, ie, lifted up, reached out
  4. Idea repetition–if it’s in dialogue, it didn’t need to be reiterated in narration, and vice versa
  5. Compound verb phrases, when possible (wasn’t going to became wouldn’t, and so on)
  6. Excess dialogue–anything that amounted to small talk, or didn’t add to the emotions of the scene

I managed to axe almost 200 words that way, which from a 1400-word section is a much more brutal edit that I usually do; but it brought the sections more in line with each other, at 800, 800, and 1200.

I’m fine with that, because they never had to be equal, just not so disproportionate. And I do still want this to be a long, tense, scene. But not dragging.

Never dragging.

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