I liked my story but it still was not jumping out and grabbing me. The plot needed more focus and trimming it down to fewer words seemed like a good starting point. Amazingly, using three valuable writing lessons AWESOME SAUCE changed from 77,000 words to a much better read at 45,000. How did it happen? Certainly not overnight but each change made the story stronger and a much livelier read.
- Cut scenes or chapters that do not move the story forward or save them for the next writing project. Stick to the storyline. I read my story again and when a scene was only there for my own amusement it got highlighted in blue. Actions of the characters also got marked if they did not show understanding of the character or if the character was not showing growth in some way. This was painful and I pulled some funny scenes that had nothing to do with the story, putting them away in a sort of purgatory file. Some day I may resuscitate these scenes back to life. New word count: 63,000.
- Dump overused words. Funny how you don’t recognize the repetition of words as one is writing. Words like looked, making, with, was, that, somehow, and really were my biggest offenders but the list went on and on. I used Word’s find feature to highlight the words and often would see 4-5 instances on a single page or even in a lone paragraph. They began to look ugly. Deleting them usually took care of the problem or replacing them with a more powerful word. I also used an online word frequency checker (WriteWords) but there are many others out there including ones you can pay for that tell you how many times each word should be changed or deleted. Down to 62,000 words.
- Say it with more effect. I continued working on the first two editing techniques while beginning the longest road of all to analyze each paragraph to see if it the original words could be said in a better way. This was a bigger task than expected, as it could not be completed over a few days, more like months. Regardless, this detail work became my favorite part of the editing process and I thought of it as a creative, nearly fun job to make the story better. Several times I woke up early morning with an idea to fix or replace a paragraph where the night before nothing came to mind. Sleep is a good thing as is a good run around the block to clear your mind. After two and a half months, I had her down to 47,000 words and the story was now flowing like a late spring waterfall, smooth and steady.
Was it done? No, not quite. I needed more critiques, help from professionals, and yes, more editing. It was December 2011 and there was a light. It may not have been at the end of the tunnel, but at least it was visible.
If the light won’t turn on you probably need a new bulb, works the same way for storytelling.