I knew it had to be done, but it’s something I put off for many months. Almost a year in fact. I wrote another novel in the interim.
It’s not like I simply had some polishing to do, so it wasn’t like ripping off a band-aid. (Unless that band-aid was fifty feet long.) The novel I put a year of my life into had grown to 135,000 words. Or about 50,000 words too long. In some genres that’s a full-length of a novel.
How was I going to remove 200 pages of brilliance? After all, every sentence–nay, every word–was a stroke of genius. Wasn’t it?
The good thing about stepping away from my novel for a year was exactly that. I was a year removed from what I’d written. And much to my surprise, it was not all brilliant.
So how did I kill 50,000 words?
First up (obviously) was the bloated 12,000-word section of backstory. I cut it down to 2,400 and I think it reads much better now, although I’m still glad I wrote the full 12k. It helped me flesh out some characters and understand them more.
I then cut a lot of extraneous scenes and details. It was a bloodbath. Entire tertiary characters were completely obliterated, left like bad actors on the cutting room floor. Most of this was in the first half of the book as my writing tightened further on. That was another 15,000 words or so.
The rest was simply cleaning up my writing. I deleted nearly every dialogue tag in the book. That probably knocked out a couple thousand words.
“What are you doing?”
” Russell said. “These words are just in the way.”
I also wiped out a lot of smiles and nods and other mannerisms that the reader doesn’t need to read. They can picture it without me forcing it down their throat. Their imaginations can add their own smirks and head tilts. If I need to state that Bill and June looked at each other and shook their heads, that means my dialogue sucks.
A slaughter of words is what my novel needed, and that’s what it got. It’s now at 87,000 words. A perfectly acceptable word count for a first novel in crime fiction.