Word count meant a lot more to me when I worked for the newspapers. I hated being assigned “20 inches” to write a story, and then having to cut it down to 15 when a fire broke out on Broadway and that story required some of my space.
But word counts are important in non-fiction, too (even if the advent of the ebook has us writing longer and longer works.)
I’m currently working my way through a finished manuscript that’s about 125,000 words long. Ideally, I’d like to cut it back to the 85,000 – 95,000 word range, but I’d be happy with 100k.
So, after debating about several scenes which I removed, I’m left with tightening up the manuscript’s wordiness to pull it together.
To tighten it up, I’m omitting:
- Adverbs, and replacing the modified verbs with more specific ones.
- “To be” constructions: sentences that start with “It is…” or “There are…” can usually be reworded in a shorter form.
- “To be” appositives. (An appositive is a noun that names another right beside it in the sentence.) For example: Reliable, Diane’s eleven-year-old beagle, chews holes in the living room carpeting as if he were still a puppy. Example (and more information available) from: http://www.chompchomp.com/terms/appositive.htm
- Possessive Constructions. (Too much use of the word “of.”) Reword or turn phrases around to get rid of it.
- “Excessive” mood setting, scene setting, internal and external dialogue. (Chop! Chop! Chop!)
Here are some things you can do to tighten up non-fiction:
- Make contractions. (I used to feel this was cheating, but I don’t anymore.) 🙂
- Similarly, get rid of coordinating conjunctions between complete sentences. For example: I hate to waste a single drop of squid eyeball stew, for it is expensive and time-consuming to make. When every word counts, deleting these words works wonders. More about coordinating conjunctions here. (The cool example came from there, too.)
- Get rid of rhetorical comments, parenthetical statements, and/or your own editorial comments*.
* Unless it’s an opinion piece, of course!
What tricks do you have to tighten up your prose?