We’ve all heard of the phrase ‘murder our darlings’, well, as authors, we should be doing it all the time. Being a successful author involves meticulous self-scrutiny, discipline, and sacrifice. One of our goals should be to make it so that our readers don’t skip a word. Sound like an impossible feat? Well, it’s a great one to strive for in my opinion.
How do you know what to cut? Here’s a quick to-cut checklist:
- Re-read the sentence in question without the eliminated words. Does it change the meaning? If not, lose it. You just tightened your manuscript.
- Eliminate “crutch” words. We all have our favored ones, but some could be just, only, that, simply, smirk (please kill this one unless necessary), walked, looked, and stared to name a few.
- Is something inferred, or implied? Then it might not be necessary to mention it. For example, one character says something and the next to talk disregards what was said. There is no need to make a comment about the disregarded statement. The fact the character moves the conversation forward does that.
- Telephone calls. You don’t have to say your character picked up the phone. Get rid of hellos and get to the point. The pleasantries are filled in in your reader’s mind.
- Watch for redundant phrasing. This can be statements, or mannerisms that are overused, or it can be narrative that was already stated. If it’s not absolutely necessary to repeat it, don’t.
- Delete scenes that do not add to character development, or the forward pacing of the story.
- Unnecessary detail. For example, if we are in the point of view of person who is going to die soon, is it necessary to know every single detail about this person and their lives? Only you can answer that, but it’s likely the scene can be trimmed.
And, if still in doubt, remember this advice–readers are intelligent. You’ve heard this over and over. Let it sink in. It’s excellent advice. I think sometimes we fear leaving something out, but if the next step is a logical conclusion, it’s safe to say it can be eliminated.