There are many reasons why you will need to cut the word count of your book. Starting with wordiness – most writers tend to overwrite, give too many unnecessary details and lengthy descriptions. Conversely, you might want to submit your book to a writing contest or a publishing house. In those situations, if your book or story is more than the allowed word count, then it will be rejected without being read at all. Then there is the most important reason: clear, simple prose is more enjoyable than prose that is verbose bordering on purple. So, below you will find some tricks which will work for both fiction and nonfiction books. You might not be able to use all of them in one book, but even one or two will be enough to cut your book down to the essential building blocks, without losing the story or the content.
1. Use action instead of description
Description is necessary in a book, but not everything needs to be described. Some descriptions can take multiple words and can be cut down to action. Let’s look at the following example:
“He looked really happy about something as he moved towards me.”
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Take the underlined section of the sentence. We can cut that to just one word: skipped.
“He skipped towards me.”
We have successfully painted a clearer picture in the reader’s minds, turning a description of eight words into one action word. It is instinct to use description instead of action, but keep your eyes open during the editing process and you will cut a lot of words, while improving your book.
2. Remove adjectives and adverbs
Adjectives and adverbs are really difficult to cut out – because we believe they add so much depth to the noun or verb. But, they don’t add anything that couldn’t be replaced with a strong action verb or a more descriptive noun. Of course, adjectives are necessary, but we fall into the habit of overusing them. You don’t need more than two to describe the noun. Trust the readers – when you give them a few details about a person, a place or an object, they will imagine it in a way that will trump the picture you’ve created with four or more adjectives.
3. Eliminate useless wandering
This trick only works for fiction novels and short stories. It’s pretty annoying to the reader to read that the protagonist wanted or thought about doing something, but then changed their mind.
“She thought about going to her father for help, but decided against it.”
Sentences like the one above only bore the reader, because they are not important – to the plot or characterization. It doesn’t matter to the reader whether the characters thought about taking a different action. They only care about the action the character did take. If the girl is a strong and independent person, it will be obvious with her other actions in the novel, not her thoughts.
4. Cut explanation scenes
Another trick focusing on fiction and nonfiction stories – explanation scenes. Some readers refer to them as info-dumps, scenes where there is no dialogue, or even if there is dialogue, the characters talk about things they are already familiar with, just to inform the reader. But here’s the thing – world building needs to be shown as well, not just told. Cut that scene out, and try to show the world your characters inhabit using the scenes that are vital to the plot. You should also view your paragraphs and determine their importance, and cut them out if they are not vital to the story.
5. Delete useless words
Words like “that,” “said,” and “the” can be removed if you comb through your manuscript with great care. “Said” or other dialogue tags can be removed if it’s clear who is speaking. “That” and “the” are even easier to remove with a little sentence tweaking. Your manuscript will be stronger, prose-wise, written with fewer words. Of course, you need to be careful with dialogue tags. They shouldn’t be removed if more than two people are conversing, for example. The dialogue needs to be clear, not incomprehensible.
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