We’ve all been there. Whether it’s a short story contest with a tight word count, or a publisher who wants a manuscript under so many thousand words, you have to cut some precious material out of your narrative.
It’s true. You can snip a word or phrase here or there. That can be effective if you’re only slicing away a few hundred words to meet a magazine requirement, or trimming a piece of flash fiction. But what happens if you need to cut 10 or 20 thousand words? Line by line won’t cut it. Think like a director. Cut whole scenes or chapters.
I did this with my non-fiction book. McFarland wanted it to be about fifteen thousand words less. My best option was to axe a few chapters. A fellow writer of mine, Chet Cunningham, encounters this dilemma all the time. Publishers want him to condense a 70,000 word manuscript to 50 (or even, gasp 40) thousand words.
His trick? He eliminates whole characters and subplots. He chops scenes rather than individual lines. And it works. There’s a core story hiding in all narratives. Most of the rest is window dressing. If you’ve every written flash fiction with a 300 word count limit, you know that’s true.
If this horrid predicament ever befalls you, think big. Cut whole scenes and characters to preserve the essence of your story.