Kelly Abell Books

Writing Tips for Writers

Writing Tip #36 - When Trimming the Fat Don't Cut the Muscle

Posted on November 13, 2011 at 9:45 AM

Many new writers travel around the internet reading various writing tips like these and a vast majority of them all boil down to someone's opinion, and I guess mine are no different.  But I do want to comment on something I've seen recently in my editing.  Many writers read the advice - Trim the Fat - If your manuscript has unnecessary scenes, cut them out.  Don't bore the reader with meaningless detail.  They also read - "A publisher won't publish work over 100,000 words so you should keep your manuscript tight and clean."

I don't disagree with the above advice, just don't trim too deep.  As you are going over your manuscript don't cut details that do the following:

1.  Help the reader get to know your character better.  If there is a scene that portrays something critical to helping your reader "feel" who your main character is, or gives them a little more insight to the plot then leave it in.

2.  Blend in your backstory.  Don't overload it all at once, but in the editing process don't trim those things that are necessary for your reader to understand what's going on.

3. Don't cut a scene that builds upon another scene.  If it is important to the future leave it in and make sure the link comes sooner rather than later

As you review your first draft and decide on making changes, don't think about word count as much as thinking about what scenes are critical to moving your story and your character forward.  If it doesn't, it's fat and can be trimmed.  If you've got a tight story that draws the reader in and rolls all the way to the end then leave it alone. 

Want a good example of what I mean?  Read A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness.  It is a very thick book and a long read, but each scene trickles in a little more and a little more until you get to the end and BAM.  That's what you want to do.  Don't bore your reader, but don't cut so deep that they look up suddenly scratching their head, saying "Something's missing here."

Trim the fat but don't cut the muscle.

Until next time...


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