Shortening your Manuscript

No author avoids at least one of these important steps. Just like with a painting, or cake frosting, a manuscript needs final cuts and touches to make it all smooth, vibrant, and lush.

Perhaps you need to shorten your manuscript extensively. Clench your teeth, wipe your tears… And do it. You can start with easy and convenient tips like these.

Search for –ly

Adverbs and Adjectives are a natural and very needed part of the language. The adverbs modify (specify) the verbs and the adjectives do the same for nouns. You can often hear that you should avoid these all the time and they kill your writing, blah, blah. It is not true. They are both important and big gangs of parts of speech. You just have to remember another common advice: Quality over quantity.

Adverbs and adjectives have a common -ly ending which makes them look similar, and if used in abundance it breaks the sentence rhythm and diversity. And this ending syllable also makes them very easy to spot. Search for ly, make your writing software highlight all the found culprits and decide their fate.

Search for very and choose a better alternative

This is the same principle as above. Look at the following examples:

very kind – nice

very hungry – starving

very detailed – meticulous

very dirty – filthy

See? Two words and repetitiveness, or one unique expression? You can easily get rid of dozens of words if you get rid of very. Of course, it is a legit word and you don’t have to erase it from the whole manuscript. Just try to reduce it as much as possible.

Restructure sentences containing that

The word that is another victim you can search for. Many sentences can be shortened if you leave out this one.

The deafening roar scared them so that they could not move.

The deafening roar petrified them.

Shorten descriptions

You love the scenes your imagination is presenting you with, don’t you? Of course, great descriptions are vital for a good book. You definitely need to describe, but try to condense these parts. If you are struggling, set yourself a goal to manage your descriptions in three sentences.

Cut transition scenes

Yes, your characters need to travel, eat, chill, go somewhere again… It is natural to inform the reader about your characters’ habits, or introduce locations… but for the sake of lower word count, consider whether you really need to keep all those library entering scenes, breakfast scenes, night snacking, bus stop waitings… Preferably, each of your paragraphs should move the story forward, or introduce something new. Try to look for fragments of scenes that can be erased. Yes, definitely keep some scenes where your character is just entering their home or is just walking down the street. A rush of action from page one to the last letter is not good as well. Just try to find balance and cut the unnecessary.

Reconsider some subplots and minor characters

This can hurt. A lot. The above-mentioned tips can certainly make your manuscript a few hundred words lighter, however, if you need to cut a few thousands… yes, just reducing the descriptions and choosing to keep only one breakfast scene instead of the original five may not be enough. Look closely. Choose the subplots that do not develop the main plot. Maybe they serve for character development or just an introduction of your fictional world. Maybe there are ways to cut all this and still keep your novel’s spirit.

You can talk about reducing the descriptions, characters, and subplots with your critique partners or beta readers. If you are having trouble finding some, read the recommendations here.

Keep the old version of the manuscript!

Perhaps you worked on your dear novel for years. And now you got rid of the old clumsy remains you typed all those years back. Maybe you noticed your vocabulary got so much richer with time. Or you still remember how you have spent weeks on never-ending rewrites of those tricky scenes you wanted to have but weren’t sure how to handle them. And maybe you even decided to mercilessly delete some of them now. You know what? Your manuscript may look much better now.

But those old pages also hide your memories. Reading your initial imperfect, wordy, and heavy attempts, don’t you also hear the music you listened to at that time? Some deleted unnecessary scenes could be inspired by someone you hold dear. Or you lived in a place you liked. If the manuscript is also a treasure of hidden good memories, do not throw away your chance to breathe and taste them again during some special rainy days.

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