You’ve been put on a word budget and each one has an assigned value.
Sweating yet? The word “budget” pops up and the inside of your hands go moist. Your breath gets heavy and you have a sudden urge to pace. You can’t sit in one place and when your child skips in asking for a Popsicle, you march them right back out.
Being put on a budget?
Yeah, you’d rather have your toenails pulled out without anesthesia.
And yet when we sit down to write the next Great American Novel, we can be some of the most verbose, slack-jawed, quick-finger-typing maniacs that use every “and”, “was”, “that”, “just”, “because” and the list heads into infinity.
Our characters don’t just have “dialogue”, they chat amongst themselves for pages at a time about everything from what they ate for breakfast to the new haircut the lady in the fourth pew back in church got last Friday.
They don’t just drive to their destination, they observe all the lovely sagebrush whirling by their window, they see the deer leaping gracefully across the pasture and combine that image with the art gallery painting they saw last week on their date with the guy who was a total jerk and should have dumped yesterday.
The typical novel is 90,000 words. Think about it, that’s not that many words. Yeah, when you’ve written the first 10K it can seem that way, but get halfway through the manuscript and suddenly you realize you still have a whole plot thread that STILL has to be resolved and you have NO IDEA how you can possibly close the thread in the next 30K.
It’s time to go on a budget.
When the goal is 90K and you end with 120K you need to go on a SERIOUS budget. The best way is to go through your manuscript with an eye for a few key things. As you edit you will see more and more that will need to be cut and condensed, but to cut a big chunk of those words that need to go now, here are a few tips of things to look for.
Before you start cutting your precious words think about it this way: you have been given $90,000 to spend on your work. $1 per word. WHICH ONES WOULD YOU CHOOSE? It puts it into perspective. If each “was” was worth $5 would you use as many? If each dialogue section could be totaled at $100 for a conversation about breakfast, would you include it?
Think of each word you write as having a value and you have to PAY for the privilege of using that word. Choose wisely, because you don’t want to miss out on words that can catapult your manuscript’s value.
· Most “that’s” are NOT NEEDED. Don’t hyperventilate. Read it out loud and you’ll agree with me.
· Condense dialogue. All “well’s” and “just’s” for example need to go. Make your dialogue punchy and filled with cutoffs and fragments (when it works). It heightens the tension.
· Don’t describe something UNLESS it matters to the plot. If your heroine is driving across the desert should she give a detailed history of sagebrush? Hmmm, probably not.
· Don’t let your character go on for pages and pages of introspection. Put action into those sections and once you state a point, DON’T keep going.
· Cut ALL backstory and include as slivers through the stories. Your readers will be more intrigued and most of that backstory is more for your benefit than the readers anyway.
Grape-shot when fired scatters and takes a chunk out here and there. When you go through that first couple of edits on your manuscript, these are some of the things you need to keep an eye out for. As the edits get more micro, you’ll still be deleting and tightening, but you aren’t going to dump all those excess words in one round. This is just a good start.
Take each word into careful consideration. Is it worth its weight to be included in the story? Does it truly contribute to the book? Those might seem like overwhelming and weighty questions, but once you start editing you will realize it has become second nature.
Word Budgeting is a great concept to keep in mind when you go through those edits. It can be hard to cut those words we spent so much time writing. But if each one has a value and that value equates the difference between a contract or not, which would you choose? Yeah, the love looses the shine really fast.
No go find a budget and stick to it!
**Photo courtesy of oranyan.com