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Tips for cutting words

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kristina_f View Drop Down
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    Posted: 27 Nov 2020 at 5:36am
Like many here, this was my first time with a micro fiction challenge. My second micro fiction story written to date. By nature, I'm verbose. As a writer and reader, I often love long, indulgent sentences that sort of flow so comfortably you could just pause for a nap in the middle.

But the shorter the story, the more each word counts. I am sure I am not the only one who left content on the cutting room floor to stay under the limit. With that in mind, I've been trying to think of strategies to strip words that really aren't pulling their weight. Curious to see what tips others might have.

Things to look for:

That
Some that's are essential; some are not. Try dropping it to see if the sentence still makes sense. If it does, cut out the 'that'. Example:
She decided that she could do without that.
1) She decided she could do without that.
2) She decided that she could do without.

Sentence 1 loses nothing by dropping the first 'that'.
Sentence 2 is still grammatically correct without the second 'that', but it probably changed the meaning of the sentence. It may work; it may not.

There was... (There is...)
'There was' can often be removed to create a shorter, stronger sentence. Cutting it may not only save you a word or two, but could also pull your reader into the action faster. Examples:

Before: There was a statue in the corner of the room.
After: A statue stood in the corner of the room.

Before: There was a peal of thunder in the distance.
After: Thunder pealed in the distance.

The first example only saves you one word, but that one word may give you the option to add a descriptor somewhere else where it is needed. Or if you remove one word from multiple places in your story, you may clear up room for an extra clause or sentence. The second example drops four words.

Redundant modifiers
Redundancy, in general, is hard to see in your own writing. That's where beta readers and editors help a lot. But often we use adverbs, adjectives, prepositions and other simple modifiers without thinking. They may add to the rhythm of a sentence, or add a little nuance, but they have to be weighed against efficiency and where a word might be better used elsewhere. Examples:

1) The delectable cake tasted delicious. 
2) He flew up to the top of the tree.
3) They daringly dove through the fire.

  • In the first example, 'delectable' and 'delicious' mean the same thing. 
  • In the second example, unless it was incredibly unclear where he was in relation to the tree, we can assume what direction he flew. 
  • The third is more subjective. The question is, does 'daringly' add anything for the reader? The action alone is usually pretty daring. We're taught at a young age to make sentences more descriptive with adjectives, but used too much and it's jarring for the reader. 
I think... she senses... he feels... they suspected...
Like the others, these words have their place, but often just weaken and extend the sentence needlessly. We use these words a lot in everyday speech, often to not sound presumptuous. When I give critical feedback or constructive suggestions, I often hedge it with 'I think...' to highlight it's an opinion, take it or leave it.

As the author of the story, most of the time you know what is going on, so just commit to it. Avoid 'I think' unless you are specifically highlighting what the character is thinking, or 'they suspected' if you are highlighting their suspicion. Other wise, it's probably safe to just drop those words.

Anyway, those are the things I am focusing on for the future. Curious what suggestions others may have to make their micros more micro-er. I have no clue if I'll qualify for another round or if in a year I'll be in a place to enter again, but I love story craft and am always looking to build up the fundamentals.



Edited by kristina_f - 27 Nov 2020 at 5:39am
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Mrsnetpro Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 29 Nov 2020 at 8:46pm
Just my .02, I find that if two sentences can be combined, you get a few more words or even an additional sentence somewhere else. I think a lot of this also comes down to preference. 

It's literally the exact opposite situation I have with the novel I'm desperately searching for 25,000 more words to include so I can say it's finished!







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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote kristina_f Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 30 Nov 2020 at 12:20pm
Yeah, where sentences have overlapping elements, they can definitely be pulled together.

Sometimes the opposite is true too. We often join sentences together that don't really have a reason to be together. Splitting them usually only drops one word--a conjunction, typically--but if it's habitual, that can add up. Most often I see it with 'and'. The author wants to speak about two concurrent events so they put them in the same sentence. "Jill went to the movies and Jack ate a sandwich." These two things aren't actually that tightly related. Sometimes it makes sense to combine them in one sentence. Often it doesn't. In my case, I use 'but' this way far too often.

I was curious why you would ever want an extra 25,000 words. Does that have anything to do with it being (Na)No(Wri)vember?
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote timmytimtimothy Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 01 Dec 2020 at 11:34am
This is a great topic. 

I tend to use stuff like the above as part of a last effort to cut words - when it's getting dire. 

One of the things that really clicked for me some time ago is to not think of action, description and dialogue as separate mechanics. 

I've often seen dialogue that reads more like it's reacting to what's happening around it than purposefully driving the story forward. A short, thoughtfully crafted piece of dialogue can easily replace 2-3 sentences or even a paragraph of subsequent description and action by giving a bite-sized sense of character, their motives or actions and surroundings. 

On the same token, too much dialogue is likely a sign that you've not been as efficient as you could be with character exchanges. 
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote KelsNotChels Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 01 Dec 2020 at 11:41am
Originally posted by timmytimtimothy timmytimtimothy wrote:


One of the things that really clicked for me some time ago is to not think of action, description and dialogue as separate mechanics. 



I agree that using dialogue effectively is a WONDERFUL way to control the pacing/presentation of the story! 

I also like to go through and look for places where I've described things all at once and see if that description can be "scattered" throughout rather than bunched up. I can usually skim lots of words that way. 
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (1) Thanks(1)   Quote amlewi08 Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 01 Dec 2020 at 1:58pm
I agree with all of these!  Another for me is killing adverbs and modifiers not because they're redundant, but because they are vague or weak.  If you can find a stronger word that doesn't sound made up, use it!

Don't frown disappointedly--pout!
Don't quickly deflect--parry!
Don't run frantically--scramble! 

The same for dialogue tags! Kill adverbs that aren't valuable!  Hell, if you write smart, you can kill the dialogue tags themselves--for the most part.




Edited by amlewi08 - 01 Dec 2020 at 2:00pm
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote kristina_f Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 01 Dec 2020 at 2:11pm
I still reserve the right to prance gaily though. I don't really know how else I'd get to the café every day for my morning coffee.

(Kidding. As if I can afford to go the the café every day. Usually I just skip giddily to the kitchen.)
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote amlewi08 Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 01 Dec 2020 at 3:02pm
Originally posted by kristina_f kristina_f wrote:

I still reserve the right to prance gaily though. I don't really know how else I'd get to the café every day for my morning coffee.

(Kidding. As if I can afford to go the the café every day. Usually I just skip giddily to the kitchen.)

lololol, whatever fills your heart!
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Mrsnetpro Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 01 Dec 2020 at 5:35pm
Originally posted by kristina_f kristina_f wrote:

Yeah, where sentences have overlapping elements, they can definitely be pulled together.

Sometimes the opposite is true too. We often join sentences together that don't really have a reason to be together. Splitting them usually only drops one word--a conjunction, typically--but if it's habitual, that can add up. Most often I see it with 'and'. The author wants to speak about two concurrent events so they put them in the same sentence. "Jill went to the movies and Jack ate a sandwich." These two things aren't actually that tightly related. Sometimes it makes sense to combine them in one sentence. Often it doesn't. In my case, I use 'but' this way far too often.

I was curious why you would ever want an extra 25,000 words. Does that have anything to do with it being (Na)No(Wri)vember?

Oh no LOL it's my novel that's been around the 50K mark for the past two months. I entered the micro fiction in the hopes it would stimulate some brain activity to motivate me with the holidays coming up to get it finished. I started "a" book after my husband died in 2010 and wanted to have caregiving (cancer) as one of the main points but could never really get it to the point where I liked any part of it. There's no worse critic out there than me when it comes to what I write. I'm never satisfied with what I write but finally with this micro-fiction I broke that spell. 

oops - Forgot to say that I agree about not combining just for the sake of that but in most cases changing around the action can make it work and I agree completely with the "but". That's something else that I obsess over with my writing.


Edited by Mrsnetpro - 01 Dec 2020 at 5:37pm
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote kristina_f Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 01 Dec 2020 at 6:06pm
Ah, well, in that case, I'm in a similar space, just inverted on the word count issue. Glad to hear the micro helped. Does that mean the caregiving aspect stays? Personally, I find drawing on personal experience is great in the beginning, but before I know it, there is just so much I want to draw on and nothing I write seems to do it justice.

I also found the contest pulled me out of certain things I was spiralling on. Part of what I like about the contest format is it doesn't give you much time to obsess or be too precious. It's just about what you can make with the limited resources available.
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