Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Doing the hard work - Editing

Most novels have fewer than 100,000 words. There are notable exceptions to this limit - Stieg Larsson and J.K. Rowling are two. But for most authors, fewer words are better.

So it is with trepidation that I face rewriting my novel, which stands at the moment somewhere north of 130,000 words. How do I ax a fourth of the precious words I spent the last years writing?

Kurt Vonnegut wrote some of the most memorable books I read in college, including Slaughterhouse-Five and Cat's Cradle. This week I came across his Eight Tips on How to Write a Great Story and I begin to understand why his writing is so powerful.

Here are his Eight Tips
  1. Use the time of a total stranger in such a way that he or she will not feel the time was wasted.
  2. Give the reader at least one character he or she can root for.
  3. Every character should want something, even if it is only a glass of water.
  4. Every sentence must do one of two things-reveal character or advance the action.
  5. Start as close to the end as possible.
  6. Be a Sadist. No matter how sweet and innocent your leading characters, make awful things happen to them-in order that the reader may see what they are made of.
  7. Write to please just one person. If you open a window and make love to the world, so to speak, your story will get pneumonia.
  8. Give your readers as much information as possible as soon as possible. To hell with suspense. Readers should have such complete understanding of what is going on, where and why, that they could finish the story themselves, should cockroaches eat the last few pages.

Within this list--right there in Tip 4--I  see one way to tackle my editing task. In fact, I'm making a sign to stick on my computer screen. Does this sentence reveal character? Does it advance action?   If not, out it goes.

Thanks to Kurt Vonnegut for offering just the writing guidance I need.

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  1. So clear, and yet so difficult to follow always... I must have caught pneumonia more than once! Hope you won't mind repeating this here:

  2. For sure, it's difficult. But then - as they say - if it was easy everyone would to it! As I rewrite today, it's helping me see sections that can go. Which I need desperately.

  3. Every single one of Vonnegut's points is essential to writing a good novel. I love #7--got to keep our stories bundled up!

    Good luck with hacking out those precious words.

    1. Vonnegut does have a way with words! It is interesting to me how many writers I encounter who haven't given more than passing thought to the specifics of who will read their novel. No, actually, everyone won't be interested.