Wednesday, March 17, 2021

Editing: Cutting the Fat

Snip, snip, snip.

Rebecca Mikkelson, CBD Authors 4 Authors Publishing

Ironically, I already cut the fat from this blog series. Originally instead of the three posts, there were going to be four, one of which covered unnecessary words and phrases. You’ll notice that it’s one of the sections in this blog post. Cutting the fat doesn’t necessarily mean you have to get rid of everything, but that you must trim it down to be more purposeful.

Kill Your Darlings

In our Misused Writing Advice series last year, we had a post about this you can read here. As you’ll read in the post, killing your darlings isn’t about killing off your characters. (Though you might need to do that too.) These are the scenes or large sections that don’t add to the plot or character development, no matter how much fun you had writing them. They will weigh down your novel and make it more difficult for your reader to get through your work. 

One really good example of this is getting attached to a chapter in another character’s POV that could be easily summarized in a paragraph. Let’s call these Character A and Character B. Character A has the main POV through the book, but Character B has a chapter where they witness some important information happening. It’s great that we have the information, but because the reader and Character A only need that bit of info to move the plot forward, we don’t need to have a 3,000 to 4,000 word chapter to give a paragraph’s worth of retelling.

Like in the dialogue post, each scene and bit of information must have a point. It absolutely must push the plot forward toward the conclusion of the book or the series. There might be some bits that you can recycle that would be better in smaller chunks or even in another book, and please, by all means, do it. 

Just don’t be afraid to take out the knife and slice away because you’re too attached to a scene. 

Get Rid of the Clone Army

No one likes killing characters, except maybe George R. R. Martin because he subsists on his readers’ tears. In this section, however, I’m not talking about killing off characters that drive the plot forward or give your protagonist a driving point, motivation, or affects their character arc. I’m talking about the characters, or the Clone Army, that just in general don’t need to be there because they’re redundant, don’t drive the plot forward, or really make any difference whatsoever to your protagonist, or even antagonist. 

Your first thought might be going to the “sexy lamp test” that was proposed by comic book writer and editor Kelly Sue DeConnick, but those characters are better served by developing their characters rather than taking them out. If you haven’t heard of this test, Sexy Lamps are usually female characters who do nothing to affect the story by their actions and could be replaced by an inanimate object with changing the plot.

A great example of this is right in one of our founder’s own works. In book two, The Allurist’s Son by B. C. Marine, she combined the roles of the captain of the guard and the prison warden into a single character because one was redundant and didn’t need to be there when the second character could do the job of both without feeling the loss of either one. 

Another example is when you’ve got a character that shows up only for a scene or two that doesn’t play a role in later books in your series disseminating information but there’s a way for an established character that does affect the plot to give this information instead, get rid of the dead weight.

Unnecessary words

Remember that recycling I talked about in the first section? Well, here’s a great example. I’m recycling an entire blog post into here. 

Let’s talk a little bit about unnecessary words: they shouldn't be there unless they’re in dialogue and it’s the way your character speaks. There are plenty of us out there that don’t speak with the eloquence most of us strive for.

There are two categories that I think all authors need to look at in their edits. The first is looking at a sentence and seeing if you can say the same thing with fewer words while still conveying the same meaning. If you can, cut those words. The second is using the find function and getting rid of words like: 

  • That

  • Just

  • Like

  • Probably

  • Most likely

  • Literally

  • And your hedging verbs that don’t need to be there for anything other than clarity.

Redundancies

Redundancies are one of the first things that I look for when I get a new manuscript from our authors to nip in the bud. These are things that we all put into our manuscripts without thinking, but once you review them, they’re implied. Here are a couple of examples of phrases I take out to make things more succinct and take out the implied portions. 

He shrugged his shoulders. → He shrugged.

He nodded in agreement. → He nodded. 

He stood up. → He stood.

He sat down. → He sat. 

All of these can also be combined with whatever sentence is coming next.  For example:

Shrugging, he went into the next room. 


Join us in two weeks for the final blog in this mini-series where I talk about keeping track of your characters. 


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