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Fellow overwriters: how much did you cut?

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JackClames View Drop Down
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    Posted: 04 Sep 2020 at 6:06am
I'm interested in how other people approach editing down to make the wordcount fit.  

For Rd2, my first complete full draft, at early afternoon on Sunday,  clocked in at a meaty 1671 words. After hours of lengthy surgery it came down to 1000 words on the nose. My Rd1 entry was ~1700 words in its first full form.

I'm learning that when it comes to short fiction I'm a serial overwriter, and (mostly) happy to 'go long' and then pare back. The process of trying to make sentences leaner and lose extraneous words is generally a satisfying, if time-consuming, challenge. 

However, I would like to train myself to come up with more self-contained stories for flash fiction, that could comfortably fit in, say, 1300 words, so the editing doesn't end up losing some of the finer details of the first draft. I find that dialogue is one of the main areas I end up sacrificing, so characters end up speaking in a fairly minimal way to advance the plot, so characterisation has to come elsewhere.

What's your approach? Do you have any killer approaches to cutting back over-long pieces, or making sure your initial outline isn't too ambitious in the first place? Do you love/hate the process of whittling down?
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Suave Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 04 Sep 2020 at 6:15am
I used to be like you, just too painful chain sawing to a time limit.
I have learned to write just the bare bones and then edit up. Works 
for me.
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote chrissie0707 Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 04 Sep 2020 at 6:49am
I’ve written enough contest flash now that I watch the word count like a hawk the entire time and start condensing and editing as I’m drafting. My goal was a first full draft of 1150 words and managed 1164. 

Edited by chrissie0707 - 04 Sep 2020 at 6:49am
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote amlewi08 Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 04 Sep 2020 at 9:03am
So, apparently my super power is writing stories that fit right in the limit.  I just started doing NYCM last year—so this is my 5th story for FFC, I’ve only gone over 1000 words once on a first draft and that was my very first piece.  My first drafts since then have all come out right at 980-995 or so.

That being said, I keep a very careful eye on my word counter the entire time I write.  So I’m sure I’m subconsciously culling the whole time. Haha.

ALSO, when it comes to editing, I always dip over and under the word limit multiple times: 999, 1018, 956, 1008, 992, 1011, 999, then stop. Haha
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote jennifer.quail Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 04 Sep 2020 at 9:38am
I'm deeply in awe of people who can overwrite by 500 or 1000 words and cut it to something coherent! I usually try to think out the pacing in quarters (250/250/250/250) and keep track of where I'm at and still end up struggling to cut 20-30 words. 
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Nudge Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 04 Sep 2020 at 10:18am
I'm a consummate overwriter.  Both rounds started with about 1500 word stories that had to be pared down. It's important to me to let the words flow initially so that I don't end up cheating the ending of its punch. Then I go back and delete everything that is redundant even if I love it, delete all my beloved adverbs, kill descriptions that I know are critical to ambience but just don't move the plot, and add contractions and complex sentences everywhere. Finding exactly the right verbs is critical too. Mama always said, "if you're using abverbs, it means you've selected the wrong verb."

"Gonna" and "wanna" are my friends. Lol. 
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote fioOxf Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 04 Sep 2020 at 10:38am
I usually come in at between 1030 and 1300, first draft. If I'm nearer the 1030 mark, no sweat, but 1300 means I can usually get rid of 150-ish, before I send to betas, who help me with plot holes and spotting where to cut. And occasional 'make this US-friendly' comments. I almost always submit 998-999 words, as I can generally cut down to 990 and add a few back in.
I use a 'five boxes' planning system for my plots, and try to cut fairly evenly across those, if I'm cutting information rather than just switching multiword verbs for single-word verbs etc. That helps keep the pace balanced. I do, however, keep the longer version for later.... 
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (1) Thanks(1)   Quote Hatter Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 05 Sep 2020 at 6:13pm
My first drafts tend to be around 1500.

This round it was 2000. 

It's always the last 100 words that are the hardest to excise.
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (1) Thanks(1)   Quote nod1v1ng Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 05 Sep 2020 at 9:29pm
I rarely have to cut more than 10-20 words. 

I try to plan my general arc points - introduction, inciting incident, conflict, resolution, denouement - before writing so that I have milestones to write towards. I write in gdocs, and keep wordcount on screen so I can monitor my progress. 

It not only keeps me within wordcount, but it also keeps things balanced, knowing I only have approximately 200 words per arc point. One of the biggest things I notice with novice Flashers is the rushed ending as they run out of words. Planning out my arc in advance helps me avoid that pitfall.
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote The Steggles Collect Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 06 Sep 2020 at 7:13am
My first draft for challenge 1 was actually quite a bit under, which allowed me to add some details to improve the characterization.

However, for this challenge I was 200 words over. Cutting some of those was easy - restructuring sentences, etc. But I did have to lose a minor character (poor Charlie, Claire's little brother, didn't make it Cry) and the final few words were really difficult.

As somebody else mentioned, cutting adverbs and strengthening the verbs is always a good idea. And the advice about blocking out the story sounds very sensible - as long as you have some idea of the overall structure to start with of course Big smile
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