This past week, I felt very close to Spider. I did another cutting marathon; this time, taking my novella "Greater Treasures" from 10,000 words to 13,300. It taxed my philosophy that just about any story can be cut by a third, and it took six hours to get to size, but I did it and I like the result.
Cutting can be very hard for writers--every word is important, right? In truth, you can chop and still preserve the story. Here're some hints:
1. Kill the passive voice. Usually, you can find a stronger verb for "was" or "has."
2. Kill progressive voice. This is was/is and a ver ending in -ing. Vern talks in progressive voice a lot, but I've found that when cutting, I can use a simple past tense instead. "I watched" instead of "I was watching." This is not always the case, though, so be careful.
3. Kill the -ly words by using a stronger verb. "I moved quietly" becomes "I stalked."
4. Kill off or combine characters. If you have a lot of side characters, you can make some do double-duty or remove them totally. Do you really need the taxi driver AND the barman to give your protagonist advice, or can one do it--or maybe a different character, like an informant? In another story I cut this week, I had two cops, but one was more decoration. He got removed.
5. Cut asides and side plots. Does your character really need that trip down memory lane? Does the conversation further the plot or is it just interesting? Anything that does not move the plot forward can be cut.
6. Don’t be so clever. This was the hard one for me. Vern has a lot of sarcastic comments to make, but I had to sacrifice some in order to make the word count. Oddly, even though they hurt while cutting, I didn't notice their absence when reading the final version aloud. Your readers will not know the great material that ended up on the cutting room floor, but if you cut intelligently, you will keep the spirit and have enough wit still in the cleaner version to make an impact.
Cutting, once you get into the swing of it, is actually a fun challenge. Seldom now do editors come back like Mr. Campbell asking for cuts, but you might try this exercise on some of your own work. You might get it down to a size that makes it more marketable, or come up with a version that will get you into a different market--like flash. Either way, it's a good way to learn what's really essential and to help you learn to "write tight."
Here's a little before-and-after. Do you miss the 30 words I axed?
Grace hid the TV by closing the door to the closet in which it stood, then peered out the miniblinds. "She's good with the dogs--friendly, but not gushing over them. Nice outfit--business, but not too out of place. Sensible shoes. Her hair's redder than mine."
The window was partly open, so I used my sniffer. "Out of a bottle. She's got money, too. More than you should carry around in this part of town."
"Good. The mortgage is due and I need some supplies for the workshop. And I've flooded the ‘local’ arcane market with dragon urine."
I shrugged. Every part of a dragon--from fangs to fewmets--has some kind of magical value and is highly prized in the magical market on Faerie. Of course, St. George had taken most of that away from me with his spell, but there was one thing he couldn't mess with, and that was a natural reaction of dragon digestion. I didn't mind filling a few bottles to sell. Too much of our work depended on Grace's magic.
"Here she comes," Grace said and took her place at her desk. She used a cantrip to open the door just before our stranger could.
"Welcome to Dragon Eye Private Investigation Agency," I said over her discomfiture. "I'm Vern and this is Sister Grace. How can we help you?"
Grace sighed with relief as she turned off the TV. The local Geraldo-wannabe had invited a couple of Mundane Neo-Nazis and some Faerie toughs to discuss their differences. One skinhead had just announced that once they had eradicated the "fairy contagion," they'd resume their crusade to purify the "proper" human race. I'd been betting the audience would storm the stage and was looking forward to the ensuing ruckus.
"The mortgage is due and I need supplies for the workshop," Grace scolded. "And I've flooded the ‘local’ arcane market with dragon urine."
"Okay." Every part of a dragon--from fangs to fewmets--has magical value. Of course, St. George had taken most of that away from me with his spell, but there was one thing he couldn't mess with, and that was a natural reaction of dragon digestion. I didn't mind filling a few bottles to sell. Too much of our work depended on Grace's magic. But you could only sell so much, so I made nice as our customer entered.
"Welcome to Dragon Eye Private Investigation Agency. I'm Vern and this is Sister Grace. How can we help you?"
"My name is Eva, Eva Heidler, and…" She sniffled.