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© 2019 by Romy Sommer. Proudly created with Wix.com

 

Bordeaux, Randburg

Johannesburg, South Africa

romy@sommer.co.za

Reducing the fat - part two

June 29, 2018

 Last week I started a 3 part series on how to reduce the word counts of our novels to make our writing leaner and meaner. You can read the first post in the series here.

 

Lean writing is an art form, one that takes practice to achieve. It is writing that doesn't draw attention to itself, but flows easily, enabling the reader to get drawn into the story without distractions.

 

So how do we reduce the fat in our novels? Here are my next 3 handy tips to help you revise your work to make it leaner.

 

 

4. Directional words - part one

 

She knelt down on the rug.

She rose up to look him in the eyes.

He placed the mug down on the counter.

He turned around to look at her.

She walked across to the door.

He turned to face her.

 

Since rising already suggests an up direction, kneeling already suggests a downward movement, and turning implies ‘around’, these words becomes superfluous. For leaner sentences, you’d re-write these as:

 

She knelt on the rug.

She rose to look him in the eyes.

He placed the mug on the counter.

He turned to look at her.

She crossed to the door.

He faced her.

 

As I said in last week's post, a word here or there might not seem to make a huge difference, but in a fifty thousand word document you could land up removing a couple of hundred words, and it will most certainly make your writing flow more smoothly.

 

 

5. Directional words - part two

 

We often add superfluous words when trying to place our characters in context with their setting or with other characters, and we do this on automatic pilot, not even realizing we’re stating the obvious. At first, make a conscious effort during your revision phase to hunt down and eliminate these superfluous words, and after a while it’ll become a habit to simply leave them out as you write.

 

“Here’s your tea,” John said, holding out a steaming mug to her.

“Thanks,” Mary said, taking the mug from him.

 

Especially if these are the only two people in the scene, who else would John hand the mug to? Even if John and Mary were surrounded by other characters, only the first stage direction would be necessary:

 

“Here’s your tea,” John said, holding out a steaming mug to Mary.

“Thanks,” Mary said, taking the mug.

 

 

6. Including every minute detail

 

Back in 2012, when everyone and their aunt was talking about Fifty Shades of Grey, I read a delightful blog post giving a blow-by-blow account of one reader’s experience of the book. That blog post has stuck with me ever since, and not just because it was laugh-out-loud funny.

 

Since I can’t remember who wrote that original blog post in order to find the original quotation, I’ve written my own scene to illustrate a typical FSOG scene:

 

“Let’s go out to lunch,” the hero said, popping his head in at the heroine’s office door. She nodded, closed her laptop lid, picked up her handbag off the floor, and rose to follow him out the office, closing the door behind her. They walked down the corridor, to the elevator lobby. He pressed the elevator button to go down, and they waited for the elevator, watching the numbers above the doors as the elevator rose to their floor. The elevator bell pinged, and the doors opened. Three people got out. The hero and heroine stepped into the elevator, and the doors closed behind them. They travelled down thirteen floors. When the doors opened, they stepped out and crossed the vast marble floor of the lobby to the glass doors which opened onto the street. They paused on the busy sidewalk.

“Where do you want to eat?” she asked.

He shrugged. “How about that cosy bistro on Third?”

They turned left to head towards Third Street, walking north for three blocks, then east for another two blocks, before they crossed at the pedestrian crossing, and entered the warm and bustling bistro. The waiter, smiling in recognition, showed them to their usual table in the big bay window at the back. They sat, and the waiter handed them menus before leaving them alone.

Before she even had a chance to look at the menu, the hero dropped his bombshell. “I’ve been offered a job in Japan.”

[245 words]

 

Okay, this is an exaggerated example, but it illustrates two things:

  1. Nothing of importance happened in 200 of those words.

  2. The writer has assumed her readers are too stupid to fill in the blanks (or that they don't know how elevators work).

A better way to write this scene would be:

 

“Let’s go out to lunch.” The hero popped his head in at the heroine’s office door. She nodded, and rose to follow him. Downstairs, out on the busy sidewalk, she paused. “Where do you want to eat?”

He shrugged. “How about that cosy bistro on Third?”

The bistro was as warm and bustling as ever, and the waiter, smiling in recognition, showed them to their usual table in the big bay window at the back.

Before she even had a chance to look at the menu, the hero dropped his bombshell. “I’ve been offered a job in Japan.”

[98 words]

 

When you're revising, carefully examine all the ‘stage directions’ you give your characters and, as a movie editor would do, cut out the unnecessary and let the reader fill in the blanks. This goes for every time a character pours a glass of wine (do we need to know he first unscrewed the lid?) or run a bath (do we need to know the heroine mixed the hot and cold water?).

 

If the heroine is making a cup of tea, you don't need to tell us the kettle boiled, then she placed a tea bag in her mug, poured water over it, and stirred until the tea was the right colour, then she removed the teabag and added sugar. Use a shorthand for these actions like "As she made the tea, he filled her in on what he’d overheard." Any reader who has ever made themselves a cup of tea will be able to fill in the details of the tea-making ritual for themselves.

 

 

Click here for the last post in the series, in which I share three more tips for reducing the flab in your manuscript.

 

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