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Thursday, March 29, 2007

Cut It Out

Seems I always write my stories too long. No matter what genre, my editors tell me to trim. With my first few books it was a mere 5,000 words—about a tenth of the story for the publisher I was dealing with. Sounds awful, but wasn’t really that hard. I managed to find bits here and there all through the manuscript, and even whole scenes, that weren’t needed. I always wound up with a tighter, leaner, faster-paced book.
Now I’m writing longer books. Frasier Island was fine at 93,000+ words. I was delighted! I’d found a publisher who let me elaborate. Then came my work in progress, Just Cause. When I wrote it, I wasn’t sure what publisher would buy the book, so I aimed for 75,000 words. Not bad.
Not good. My agent sold the book to Love Inspired Suspense, and the first thing I was told (I was expecting it) was that the word limit was 65,000. Okay. I could handle this, especially with the editor giving me a few tips on sections of the book she wasn’t keen on. She suggested I axe one complete subplot that she really hated. I gritted my teeth, scrubbed in, and reached for the scalpel.
Uh-oh. I was congratulating myself on having made about half the requisite cuts when I got another notice from the editor. The board at LIS had dropped the word count to 60,000. Ouch. I was now cutting one fifth of my story.
What’s an author to do? After a few moments of panic, I assured my agent I could do it and come out with a book better than the one I’d started with. And LI-Suspense-sized.
Deep breaths. Machete, please.
I went back and carefully reread my editor’s initial letter, which designated areas to hit hard.
Lose the one questionable subplot. Check.
Tighten back-and-forth dialogue. (I love dialogue. It’s my favorite part of most books.) Painful check.
Cut much of the legal stuff. Okay, I’m not a legal person and needed someone to coach me on that, anyway. You always do more research than you wind up using, right? Check.
Develop the hero’s inner conflict more strongly.
Wait a minute, that’s ... not cutting. That’s adding. This was a real challenge. I had to find ways to make Dan Ryan deeper without using more space. Wow. Suture kit, please.
Call for second and third opinions (otherwise known as critique partners) for a consultation. And when the surgeon is still shaky on the procedure, resort to calling in the famous specialist. In other words, I emailed the editor to make sure I was heading in the right direction. I outlined to her what I planned to do to satisfy this requirement. She gently steered me to a slightly different treatment. Whew! Where’s that nurse who wipes your brow while you’re operating?
Suddenly it was all clear. I knew where I was going, and that I would end up where the editor wanted me for post-op. (Or publication, if you prefer.) And my manuscript would be a trim, mean 60,000 words. Yay!!
I’m not done yet, but I’m down to 66,000, and I know what needs to be amputated. When the cuts are done, we’ll need a little Rehab, I’m sure. And I want some time in Recovery before I face my next deadline.
Happy cutting!


Blogger Gina said...

Great post! I tend to write more than necessary, though I'd rather over write then get to the end and realized I'm 10,000 words shy!

1:35 PM  

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