Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Concision and Cutting Your Manuscript

I first learned the value of concision from one of my Anthropology professors in college.  I don't always use what he taught me, but the rules he taught me came in handy when it came to cutting my manuscript down for submission to publishers.  I went from 116K to 98K and you can too!

Here are seven simple rules to help you do the same!

1.  Cut out as many modifiers and adverbs as possible.  These are the"ly" words and fluff that make you think you sound like a writer, but they hurt more than help.

2.  According to Stephen King, you should cut out "so," "just," "really," "quite," "perhaps," and "that."  I agree with him.  I also agree with his 10% rule.

3.  Learn to say it as simply as possible.  Wordiness is only useful if you need to add more words to your manuscript.  Instead of saying, "He was the type of man that wasn't like anybody else," say "He was a man like no other," OR "He was unique."

4.  Instead of describing how the characters feel and what they are thinking, put as much dialogue and physical reaction as possible.  This not only makes the scene move faster, but it usually shortens it as well.  Don't talk about how pissed of Sally is, make her stamp her foot, scream, and slap Jack.  It's more exciting that way anyway.

5.  Start at the real beginning.  It often takes a writer a little while to get into the characters and the story.  Find where the heart of your story begins and cut everything before that out.  If there is important information that you need to relay from what you've removed find a way to insert tid-bits of it throughout the story.  DO NOT INFO DUMP.

6.  Don't make a mountain out of a mole-hill.  In other words, don't use "utilize" when "use" works just as well.  There are exceptions to this rule, but remember literary genius is not in the word itself, but in how the word is used by the author.  The simplest tools are often the most worthy.

7.  Learn to say goodbye.  We know you love that scene where Sally gets her hair stuck in the hair-drier, but it isn't necessary to the story.  Cut it out and put it in a special file folder for all those wonderful scenes that just don't advance the romance between Jack and Sally.

Does that help?  Hope so!  What do you do?


  1. A comprehensive, straight-to-the-point list that can easily be applied to any manuscript. Thank you for sharing!

  2. Great suggestions, thank you. Now I'm off to implement some of them on my own mss.