How to Fit Your Word Count: Cutting Edition

One of the things I’ve enjoyed the most about doing a CW degree, is seeing my own and others’ attitude towards word counts change. In first year, a 1500 word essay seemed almost unmanageable but now 2500 words are never enough.

I’ve talked a lot about word counts on this blog lately, and here is my list for quickly cutting words to make sure your story can fit your set word count:

1. Are there any scenes you can remove?
Cut any scenes that don’t move the plot or develop your characters!
Of course, if you’re writing a book with a 100K words, you can afford to put in a page of pure location description, or have a couple of slow scenes that set the tone more than drive the plot. However, when you only have 2500 words to establish a plot, your backstory and characters, plus create an interesting story, scenes that don’t drive the plot are a luxury you can’t treat yourself to.

2. Can you shorten the beginnings of any scenes?
A bit like with poetry, it’s easy to make the beginning a bit wordy as you often think you need to explain concepts you don’t need to explain. Instead of wordy introductions to each scene, get right in on the action! This helps your pacing and gives you more words to play with for the exciting and intriguing parts.

3. Can you remove any characters?
Removing characters might mean removing whole stretches of dialogue or entire scenes, but if what’s conveyed in said dialogue or scene can be shown in a different scene, then this might drastically shorten your word count, making you able to put more story in there.

4. Give all your characters names!
This might seem like a stupid one, but one I figured out while writing my dissertation. As I was writing a piece of children’s fiction told from the perspective of a child, I decided to have the narrator call another character’s parents “Georgie’s mum” and “Georgie’s dad”, simply based on the fact that kids rarely think about parents having names at all. However, this meant that every time I mentioned these characters I had to spend two words on them, and by giving the parents their own one-word names, I was able to cut one word per mention, which actually turned out to be quite a few words in the end.

Note: I’m not saying to not do this ever, of course. It’s a fun way of talking about people in writing, but it’s important to think through whether it’s worth using up your word count for it.

5. Remove the “that”s!
Leave the “that”s where they’re grammatically correct, but don’t overuse them. This post/article actually explains it really well! Apparently the word “that” is so overused in writing, that four different lecturers felt the need to warn us about it in first year. I never remember to heed their advice while writing, but never forget it while editing either.

6. “Kill Your Darlings”
In writing situations, your “darlings” are scenes, ideas, sentences and description that you as the writer loves, but that might not do anything for the story. These darlings have often stayed with the piece from the first draft, and often end up fitting the story a little awkwardly, as they don’t change with the piece as it develops. This can lead to parts of your story reading a bit awkwardly, like you’re taking a break from the actual story to shoehorn in this beautiful, poetic sentence, that really doesn’t do much for the plot.
Getting rid of such “darlings” might be a team effort; you might need the help of someone who aren’t as attached to these phrases as yourself to clear them out.

Most of these tips are tailored to writing fiction, but some can also be transferred into non-fiction, copywriting and any type of writing, really. I hope this could be of some use to someone, if only as a reminder of something you already know!

Have a lovely day,
-Andrea

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