I have just finished a concision edit on my work-in-progress that I didn’t exactly aim to do.
Mainly, because I’d already done one. After my last full read, I’d finally captured the full emotional thrust of the story I’d always been going for. The cause-and-effect trajectory was all there, the turning points that solder arcs of change for the main characters were there, the stakes were high, the premise was fully explored. Its identity, tight.
But not tight enough. I was over my desired word count.
On one hand, I didn’t let that bother me overmuch. This is a big story, and I wanted to make sure each of its layers had a strong foundation. On the other hand, I was open to even more concision. When you’ve said just enough, and no more, your words are strung together by magnetic energy. This is a worthy goal.
As it turned out, checking boxes on my final self-editing list continued to tighten the manuscript. Here’s how it worked for me, in case it helps you. I’m calling them “random” ways because in each case, my primary goal was different than aiding concision.
[x] Stop just before you want to
Early on in my career, a remarkable agent took time out of her busy schedule to explain to me by phone that I’d written beyond the end of the story. Beyond the climactic plot point, the reader can imagine the rest. But seriously, who wants to stop writing, when you can finally give your characters the happiness and peace of mind they’ve sought? Not me. meaning, I was doing the same thing again in this novel—and in doing so, inadvertently changed the novel’s intent.
A couple of weeks ago, as I was revising toward The End, I identified a place where I could echo some wording I’d used at the break into the second act—something noted by my character then, but not acted upon. I added the words again, at a place where she was acting on them—and right away, I heard four additional words, loud and clear. I typed them in and wow, there it was—that satisfying click that told me the story question had been answered. By that point, it had been long-established what she wanted, and it’s clear what she’s heading toward, and guess what? The reader really can imagine the rest. Over 2K words, gone.
Only 5,500 to go, lol.
[x] Renumber chapters
My next task was to update chapter numbers, since once I get into a heavy developmental edit, I never bother to do so. I also noted the length. My chapters were a little longer this time, on average 10-13 pages. Shorter, punchier chapters were 8. So when one came up 5, that was worth a second look. Was it even punchier? Or, perhaps, not necessary at all?
If a reader can understand the story without one of its scenes, it isn’t needed. This is the sort of determination you can miss when reading straight through, seduced by prose you love, characters who have won your heart, and who are ensconced in a situation that grips you. If your scenes are following a cause-and-effect chain, you’ll simply accept that scene as “this is what she did next.” The question is, whether or not the reader needs to watch her. [Read more…]