Cutting to the Chase


Just read a terrific post on Stephen King's Top 7 Tips for Becoming a Better Writer by Henrik Edberg over at the Positivity Blog. Thanks, Henrik, for sharing these reminders from King's classic, On Writing (which I highly recommend). They're absolutely timeless and usable for writers of every ilk.

They were also a great reminder that 90% of editing your work ought to be about cutting to the chase with the surgical excision of anything that form a barrier between the reader and the story. A few of those things include:

1. Show-offish writing: Vocabulary, sentence construction, or artsy-overload which calls attention to itself and the cleverness of author.
2. Backstory and flashbacks: If you can't tell it in real time, hint at it via character actions, attitude, and dialogue.
3. Pointless description. A richly-described world can really make a story - when such description pulls double duty by adding layers to mood, characterization, or the story itself. If it serves none of the previous functions, it either needs to be cut or given significance.
4. confusion: Nothing pulls me out of the story as much as having to flip back to try and figure out which character is which, where I am in the story, or what the heck is going on. To reduce the chance of losing the reader, limit the number of characters when possible and for heaven's sake, don't give a whole mess of them similar names.
5. Scenes that don't matter: If a scene has no impact on the plot and/or nothing at stake, try cutting it and seeing if you can simply allude to any info revealed in other, more interested scenes.
6. Excessive adjectives and adverbs: I'm not among those who thinks the only good modifier's a dead one, but many can be dispensed with, particularly in dialogue tags. If you can tell how someone said something from the context, don't insult the reader's intelligence or slow the story by giving this unnecessary information.

So as you're checking over scenes, chapters, or your whole manuscript, think like a sculptor (or a cosmetic plastic surgeon!) and consider what might best be cut away. Then try saving a new version of your leaner, meaner story, along with an "outtakes file" where you drop and preserve your "killed darlings" in case you need anything from them for later.

I can almost guarantee you'll like the skinnified version better.

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