Friday, December 5, 2008

Cut The Fat

Much like the Fish Cleaning approach to editing, liposuction also works well. Cut all the excess fat. Concise writing moves the story along as much as a good story line. Take out unnecessary phrases and words.


It was cold outside. So cold Tracy pulled her coat tight against the wind and shifted from one foot to the other to stay warm.

That’s okay writing. We’ve all read it, and since that example is out of my work in progress, I will admit to writing it. But in my second or third time through the manuscript, I recognized it as weak writing. It’s wordy and ordinary.

So I rewrote it: The cold crawled up her legs like spiders, leaving a trail of goosebumps.

I thought that was better and perhaps I was done with it. It uses a fresh image and has reduced 25 words to thirteen. But after letting it rest for a few days I thought it could be improved, so I tried this: The cold crawled up her legs like spiders.

Cutting that last phrase lets the reader linger on the image and imagine the goosebumps. But that’s strictly a judgment call. Half the people I give this workshop to prefer to leave the phrase about the goosebumps in and that’s okay. I’m not handing over stone tablets when I do the workshops. :-)

As a side note, do be careful when you are cutting and don't cut something that is needed. I just saw this in Gone, by Jonathan Kellerman. “Billy wore the same blue shirt and baggy Dockers.”

Same as what ? It wasn’t referencing the other character in the scene, and it took me a minute to realize Kellerman was referring to the same clothes Billy wore the last time Alex Delaware saw him.


Maryann Miller is an author and freelance editor. Her latest books are One Small Victory and Play it Again, Sam. Visit her Web site for information about her books and her editing services. When she is not working, she loves to play "farmer" on her little ranch in the beautiful Piney Woods of East Texas.

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  1. Liposuction! I love it. That's exactly what needs to happen to most of the prose I edit.

    Your caution is important also. You can't cut into the bone and muscles.

  2. Wise words in more ways than one at this time of year.

    Morgan Mandel

  3. Thanks for the kind words, Shelley and Morgan.

    Regarding the caution, I just happened to be reading "GOne" the day I was writing the blog and caught that small error. Realized it was a great example of too much cutting.

  4. Loved the images you created. Not sure whether I'd leave in the goosebumps or not. I think, for me, I would. They conjure up an image of little red dots being left by the spiders.


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