Janet Sumner Johnson
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The Story of a Story

Oct 06, 2011 Uncategorized 18 comments

Today I want to tell you a story:

Once upon a time I wrote a book. It was not my first book, but I loved it like it was. People critiqued it, and I made changes. More people critiqued it, and I made more changes. People started telling my good things about my book. This made me happy.

So I worked on my query letter. People critiqued it, and I made changes. More people critiqued it, and I made more changes. And people told me happy things about my query letter. This made me happy, too.

And I wanted to query.

But one thing bothered me. . . .

. . . the page count.

My book was long. This did not make me happy.

So I started cutting. Little things at first:

But it wasn’t enough.
So I cut more. Bigger things this time:

But it still wasn’t enough. (Yeah, it was LONG.)
So I cut more. Even bigger things this time:

And while this story isn’t finished yet, I will tell you this: My beta re-readers between each cut session couldn’t tell what I’d cut. None of it was missed. None. And while they did notice the plot changes I’d made . . . they thought it was better.

So if you, too, are struggling with the the dreaded thing called word count, are you sure you’ve cut all you can?


18 Responses to β€œThe Story of a Story”

  1. Joanne says:

    I did the same thing with a manuscript this past Spring. I even cut chapters! It's amazing how the process really tightens the story, and makes what's left read even better. Happy editing πŸ™‚

  2. Carolyn V says:

    Cutting makes me sad, but makes the story so much better! Funny how that works. πŸ˜‰

  3. Saumya says:

    GREAT question. I'm in the process of major revisions and am cutting a lot.

  4. LTM says:

    great advice. Too bad my problem is just the OPPOSITE!!! I tend to be too brief. I can always add more description, it seems, or slow a scene down, or whatever. Revisions are a beast~ :o) <3

  5. Great point that the beta readers didn't notice the cuts. I try to do a "waste sheet" (I read about that in the blogosphere) now. I put cuts that I like, but know aren't needed. I save it for something else. Maybe I'm a word hoarder.

  6. Good for you!!!!! Great list of stuff to slash, to whittle a manuscript down to a readable size. πŸ™‚

  7. Such a good point! I am squarely in the too-wordy camp myself, and always looking for ways to cut. But it's hard! Good for you and good luck with the book!

  8. Been there, done that. I managed to cut a 102K manuscript down to a svelte 63K, then decided I'd been a little over-zealous and plumped up the overly-fast scenes. Now it's sitting pretty at 65K.

  9. My first fantasy novel was over 200K. And only about 50K was necessary to the overall plot. *SIGH*
    Luckily, I've learned my lesson. πŸ™‚

  10. WritingNut says:

    I'm definitely dealing with this right now… I have soooo many of these unnecessary actions that I need to cut. At one point I was doing revisions and it was almost 140k.. And I was supposed to be cutting (word count goal: 85k)!

  11. I wish I could cut. I tend to write stories that are too short to be called novels. In fact, I actually go through and do my best to add pointless words wherever I can. But now, I'm coming to terms with short novels. It just doesn't bother me as much as it used to.

  12. I'm so glad you sound happy about it! I always feel bad about pointing out passages (frequently delightful ones) that are redundant or tangents. I suspect they were made wonderful because the author was moved in some way by the subject. It's a sadness to suggest removing something that touched the author so much. πŸ™

  13. Great advice. Thanks for sharing.

  14. This is good advice, but I do think you need to be careful too.

    Right after I wrote my first book (which was about 180,000 words) I was so desperate to cut the word count, I went back and edited out my voice.

  15. The last revision letter I got sggested I ct 50 pages. F-I-F-T-Y pages. And this was from a 46K novel, so it's not like it was exceptionally long.

    It is amazing what yo can cut (and the story was tight to start with!) but when you start looking at what moves the story forward and what just characterizes or layer…it makes a big difference. πŸ™‚

    Angela @ The Bookshelf Muse

  16. Ooh, great post! I'm a very long winded writer, so my final versions always end up in LOTS of cuttage.

  17. MikeS says:

    I struggle with word count from the opposite perspective. Wow, my story is so "short". What more can I add to give the readers a better more complete story?

    Maybe I should just be a short story writer.

  18. Once I get into cutting I can't stop and it always improves the work. I even spend time cutting the word count on my blog posts and I'm sure they benefit too.

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