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EDIT TIP: To Cut or Not to Cut

Updated: Aug 7, 2023


Black and white photo of woman with dark hair looking at computer screen.
Christina Boyd: revise, revise, revise.

For the last year, I’ve been near-obsessed revising my debut novel Woman in the Painting. Revise, revise, revise. Since originally typing “finis,” I’ve cut over 15,000 words too. I’ve red-lined extraneous words and crutch words and phrases, cut unnecessary dialog tags, cut characters, combined characters, cut scenes, cut backstory…. I’m ruthless making the novel tighter. I’ve learned, whether editing with an ax or scalpel, the process is the same. If I can delete a word, sentence, scene, character, or chapter, and the story remains uncompromised, I cut it.


Cut extraneous words:

  • He thought to himself  (He can only think to himself, so leave out those words. If italics are used for thoughts, cut “he thought” since it’s implied.)

  • He stood up then sat down ("up" and "down" are redundant)

  • She shrugged her shoulders and nodded her head (What else would she shrug or nod?)


Delete crutch words: very, really, that, just, literally, actually… (You get the gist.)


Reconsider dialog tags: A scene between two characters, dialogue tags are unnecessary after establishing the speakers. Rework the lines with action to further differentiate who is speaking.


If a character has no connection to the plot, cut them loose.


If a side excursion or conversation does not move the story forward, let it go.


If you are serious about publishing your work, your best work, I recommend you get out your red pen and do the work. Each word must serve a purpose. Lazy words detract from a powerful message. Strengthen your writing by simplifying wordy phrases, cutting filler, and reducing redundancy. Save those deleted characters and scenes for other books or even blog tour outtakes. Be brave. Good luck!

4 Comments


This is the best advice! I'm so glad you were my first editor.

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Christina Boyd
Christina Boyd
Mar 23, 2023
Replying to

Gosh, that seems another life time ago. We’ve come a long way! xx

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clarkws
clarkws
Mar 23, 2023

So glad I found this article through your newsletter. I'm writing a book on grief. Still at the beginning stages of just trying to get my thoughts on paper. This is so helpful. Thanks

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Christina Boyd
Christina Boyd
Mar 23, 2023
Replying to

Writing is a process, and at the beginning I find it helpful to not edit myself, rather get as much of it out of my head and follow my outline (and divert from outline when necessary.) Editing too early bogs my writing process—so I suppose that contradicts everything I’ve written above about cutting, cutting, cutting (when the manuscript is complete.) Haha! But then everyone finds their own groove. So glad you let me know this is helpful.

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