Tuesday, June 8, 2010
Cutting Out Dead Wood
You're probably ahead of me, right? How part of our job as writers is to trim dead wood from our stories, and prune anything that impedes the action's progress? There are adverbs and adjectives to cut, backstory, cliches, and passive tense to thin back. Redundancy to delete, telling to lop off so that the showing "shows" through. All kinds of word trimming goes on in our craft.
I found another treasure in the "jungle" of my office book shelf: The Writer's Book of Wisdom, 101 Rules for Mastering Your Craft, by Steven Taylor Goldsberry (Writer's Digest Books 2005). Rule #93 states:
"In the days before computers, a writer would literally have to cut and paste. That's what those commands on your PC refer to, kids, except that back then we used actual scissors and glue.
"When we cut up a page and transferred the elements, an interesting thing happened: We learned to cut more than paste. And the resulting shorter copy read better.
"An old formula says that the second draft should be 10 percent shorter than the first. The third draft 10 percent shorter than that...As you revise, try to cut your manuscript by at least 10 percent--that alone should improve the pacing. If you find that for every scene you trim, there's another you want to expand, ask yourself, 'How does this further the plot?'
"If it doesn't, let it go."
If it doesn't further the plot--let it go. Great words for me this week. How about you? What do you see needs trimmed in your work this week?