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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!

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