Friday, December 9, 2011

Focus Friday: Cutting the Fat

It's only the ninth day of December and already I feel weighed down by celebratory feasting.  I'm still dragging after a great Thanksgiving meal and my birthday, when I gorged myself on cake and cocktails.

Also, since December 1st we've been opening advent calendars at home, so every morning I pop a chocolate into my mouth.  Add in the leftover St. Nick candy from the family stockings and a 12-0 Packers season with more tailgating to come and it's clear...

It's time to cut the fat.

Today, as I vow to eat lean and mean through the weekend, I'm also going through a few manuscripts and cutting the fat.  This morning, I turned a 1,400-word story (one of my longest - I'm really into the 500 word PBs as of late) into an under 1,000 word picture book manuscript.  Then, I combined two chapters in my work-in-progress novel into one, realizing the redundancies.

My number one strategy?  Edit line by line.  If I can cut one word out of every sentence, or rephrase wordy clauses, I can generally cut 10%-20% of a picture book manuscript that's still in draft mode.

Why am I doing it?

Yesterday I took a stroll into my local, independent bookstore, and picked up a few hardcover titles.  It was obvious to me right away which ones lacked editorial "cutting" - because the huge blocks of text and the images that suffered because of the words were totally off-putting.  I did happen to notice that several of the "wordy" titles were self-published and one, though traditionally published, was a celebrity-suddenly-turned-author.  Regardless, they were books that 1) I wouldn't be buying for my children, and 2) the author probably had regrets about because they could have been better.

Anyway, it reminded me that as children's writers we have to be on top of our game.  If we choose to traditionally publish, we have to cut out what can be inferred or represented in the images.  We have to consider every phrase and every word.  We have to polish.

If you write picture books, open one up and look at the word count.  Challenge yourself to cut 10% in one edit of the story.  You'll be surprised how easy it is if you do it!  And, the more you do it, the easier it gets to write more concisely in first drafts.

What's your strategy for cutting the fat?  Are you ready to trim down this holiday season in preparation for the New Year?  Comment below!


KatieC said...

I actually started a diet two days before Thanksgiving (crazy, I know). But hey, not only didn't I gain over the holiday, I've not lost 5 pounds!

As far as trimming the fat from my manuscripts--I'm ruthless. Just last night I trimmed a favorite sentence from a picture book manuscript. I won't lie, it hurt.

Miranda Paul said...

I remember the first time I "killed a darling." It is HARD!

Thanks for the comment and good luck with the rest of the holiday dieting!

Kelly Hashway said...

Miranda, I just went through a cutting revision on my YA manuscript. I wasn't trying to cut the manuscript down. I wanted to avoid unnecessary words like: that, just, really, so, etc. Writing PBs really helps you learn to cut out what's not needed.

Miranda Paul said...

Kelly, you bring up such an important point - the conversational and informal word "fillers" we use when speaking are often distracting, unnecessary, or redundant, and they can "date" the voice of your character in ways you don't want. Thanks for sharing!

Claudine said...

Miranda, I think cutting the fats off a PB manuscript is just about the hardest thing to do! But it HAS to be done. I'm going to pick up your challenge and see if I can 'edit' a PB by 10%. This is good practice. :)

patientdreamer said...

Hi Miranda,
I found this a very timely post. Have a PB ms that needs lots of work to trim the "fat". Unfortunately bad timing for my waistline.

Miranda Paul said...

@patientdreamer - too funny! All the best with trimming the PB. As for the waistline...I've got no advice. Hope you enjoy the holidays!

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