Thursday, August 28, 2008

Killing Me Softly

Forget about sagging middles, mine is bulging at the seams. My latest masterpiece came in at a whopping 434 pages in TNR. That’s 137,000 words according to the computer word count. Yikes. Converted to Courier, it’s 611 pages. Doing the math at 250 words per page, it’s 152,750 words. Ack! Even worse. So do I think the middle sags? Not really. My (now ex) agent said it had “lots of life.” Maybe too much life. So what’s a writer to do? In the immortal words of William Faulkner, I’m going to have to “kill my darlings.”

I figure I need to cut 40 to 50 pages to get it under 400 in TNR, then tighten what’s left to get the computer word count down. But where to start? For me, it’s all about taking baby steps. To think about it otherwise makes my head explode. So, I’m gonna tackle the first 4 chapters first. They’re at 58 pages right now and I want to get them down to 50 pages or less.

Here’s the breakdown:
Chapter 1 is currently 11 pages. Could be 10.
Chapter 2 is 13 pages and needs to be 11.
Chapter 3 is 19 pages and needs to be 14-15.
Chapter 4 is 15 pages and needs to be 13-14.

I figure if I can do that, I’ll cut 8-10 pages and about 3000 words. Sounds do-able, right? Here’s how I’m going make it happen...

Step 1 -- Dust off my notes from Margie Lawson’s Deep Editing workshop and highlight the heck out of those 4 chapters. Done.
Chapter 1: Lots of green (description) and yellow (narrative). I’m cutting those parts in half.
Chapter 2: Lots of blue (dialogue). Need to keep only what’s necessary. Icsnay the chit chat.
Chapter 3: Tons of action and tension. Gotta keep most of that. But there’s that part at the end of scene one I had doubts about when I wrote it (Was it too cutsie? Too forced?). It’s out. That cut 1 ½ pages right there. Woo hoo!
Chapter 4: More unnecessary dialogue. Snip, snip.

I’ve cut 4 pages and 1200 words already. Now on to…

Step 2 -- Tighten what’s left.
Get rid of those pesky adverbs that snuck in while I wasn’t looking.
Get rid of weasel words (that, really, seemed, nearly, etc.)
Get rid of passive voice (‘was running’ becomes ‘ran’ -- 2 words to 1)
Get rid of throw-away phrases (in fact, at the moment, in spite of, etc.)
Shorten long phrases to 3 or 4 concise words.

Step 3 -- GAP (Gain a Page)
Tighten again. Reduce each long paragraph by at least one sentence and you can cut 1 page.

Okay, so maybe this is more about revisions than sagging middles, but it’s what’s on my mind today. And I haven’t gotten to my middle yet. By the time I’m through with my highlighters I may find I have more sag in it than I realize. But I’m still on step 2 of the 1st four chapters. I’ll let you know how it goes.


  1. Lori, I sooo feel your pain. I had to have my h&h meet early and pulled 30 pages out of my beginning to make that happen. And yes it reads sooo much better now. But was it easy? Heck no.

    Keep up the good work. I've never taken Margie's EDITS workshop but it sounds good.


  2. Lori,
    I can totally relate cause I'm a wordy gal. It sounds like you have a great plan of attack. Good luck and thanks for the advice!


  3. You know, I cut a book by about 30K once by deleting a subplot. Possible?