“When your story is ready for rewrite, cut it to the bone. Get rid of every ounce of excess fat. This is going to hurt; revising a story down to the bare essentials is always a little like murdering children, but it must be done.”
—Stephen King, WD
Well that’s a bit morbid, but he speaks the truth. I believe wholeheartedly that you should “get rid of every ounce of excess fat.” Keep what is absolutely necessary; the stuff that is relevant to your story, the stuff that will keep your readers wanting more.
Yes, when it comes to rewriting/editing your work, it can be painful. All the cutting and chopping of your beautiful story can leave scars on your psyche, but in my own experiences I’ve found that I also feel an incredible sense of satisfaction and relief. When you edit, you take the story you told for yourself and re-tell it in a way that other people will enjoy it too. Yes, you might have thought that long conversation about cat memes in chapter ten was entertaining, but will your readers think the same? Does it have anything to do with your story?
The first time I went back to rewrite a piece of my work, I had no idea what I was doing when it came to cutting my word count down. I wanted to keep all of it, so I did, and it turned out to be one of the worst short stories I had ever written, for many reasons. The pacing was off, there were a ton of boring bits, and the story was hidden amongst a bunch of crap that didn't matter. Over the years, I’ve found that if I ask a few simple questions and reduce my word count starting with the scenes and working my way down to the individual words, I’m easily able to figure out which parts I need to cut out. These questions are essential in my editing process:
1. Is this relevant to my story?
You’re probably thinking, “well duh!”, but you might be surprised by how much fluff you leave in you story. Even if it’s a short info-dump on how an alien weapon works, if that weapon doesn’t come up again in your story, then that is useless information. Something that you would want to keep in your story is say, the description of an item that someone gets murdered with later in the story, like the candlestick on the mantle in your main protagonists home. When you clean up your story you’ll find that your scenes flow from one to the next more smoothly and your story as a whole is more enjoyable to read. No fluff!
2. Will it hold my readers attention?
Even if you have a part that is relevant to your story, it may be incredibly dull. Don’t bore your readers. Take out the boring bits and add in some action or, if you’re delivering much needed information in a boring way, rewrite it! Deliver the information while your characters are involved in a fight or running for their lives. Do whatever you feel is necessary to prevent your readers from shutting the book. Try and see your story through the eyes of someone else and make the necessary changes. You can do it!
3. Can I cut it down further?
If I have determined that, yes, this part stays, I then ask myself if that part can be trimmed. This is when I move from scene to paragraphs and then from paragraphs to sentences and words. I search for useless words and sentences; things that aren’t contributing to the story or mood in any meaningful way, and I cut them out. Sometimes this means cutting a scene down to half the word count it was and that's okay! I can guarantee you that your readers will not miss the deleted parts.
Cut out the crap! As Stephen King said: it must be done. Do not fret over lost words, but be happy in knowing that when you are able to detach yourself long enough from your story to cut out the unnecessary bits, it makes you a better writer and your story a million times better. Go! Now! Cut, cut, cut!
Challenge: Edit one of your short stories (even if you have done this already). Ask yourself the questions above and see how it turns out! Oh, and have fun with it!
We appreciate you guys for reading our blog and hope you get some good writing time in this week!