Monday, May 15, 2017

Guest Post: THE 10% SOLUTION by Jan Christensen

Another Monday and that means Jan Christensen is back today with another informative post…

Rule of thumb--after you've finished what you deem is your last draft, get rid of 10%.  I saw this idea someplace a while ago, but it wasn't brought home to me until I needed to make a story, which was over 5,000 words, no more than 4,000 words to meet a particular publisher’s guideline. It was polished and ready to go, I thought. 

Then I followed the 10% “rule” to edit, and guess what--I rather easily eliminated 500 words.  One tenth.  And yes, I think it's a better story now.  Some non-essential stuff is gone.  The story itself hasn't changed.  I've trimmed several descriptions, and I've found I need to look at the end of each sentence for trailing prepositional phrases and other stray words.  I don't use a lot of adverbs or adjectives, but I found several that could go, often replacing two words with one, stronger word. 

I've written several flash pieces which were almost twice as long as they had to be to place them.  I've whittled them down to the required word count.  Sometimes this is a bit too much, but usually it makes for a more interesting, sharper story.  And it's a good exercise.  Try it, you might be surprised.

However, I decided I couldn’t eliminate another 500 words in that piece without making parts of it unclear. So, I’m looking for other places to send it.

(This post edited for wordiness--have fun finding any extras!)

Jan Cristensen ©2017

Jan Christensen lives in Corpus Christi, Texas, and has had nine novels and over seventy short stories published.


Art Taylor said...

Great points, Jan. I've seen other, resonant remarks about cutting the first paragraph (or even three pages!) of your story and the last paragraph too to find where stories really start and end. And I recently took at 17,000+ word story (yikes!) and cut it to under 12,000 words just going line-by-line and eliminating what wasn't needed. Hard work, but pays off. (...if I can find a publisher for it, that is.)

Earl Staggs said...

I think you're absolutely right, Jan. Any writer, even the most seasoned (seasoned: a polite word for "old"), should be able to whittle at least 10%. The trick is to know when to stop whittling and start submitting.

Jacqueline Seewald said...

Hi Jan,

Stephen King wrote on this topic many years ago in The Writer. He strongly believes in cutting verbiage. I always find that an extra edit is helpful.

Susan Oleksiw said...

I like the idea of having a goal of 10 percent; it gives sharper focus to the editing process, and doesn't make me feel have to chop entire scenes. Good post.

Kaye George said...

This is why I love writing flash fiction. Even if it goes nowhere, it's great exercise to try to tell a complete story in 1000, even 500 words. Once your mindset is focused on leaving out the extra words, it starts to come naturally. But there's always something to improve/shorten/omit.

Jan Christensen said...

Art – I’m really impressed by the number of words you cut in that long story. Good luck placing it!
Earl – Absolutely true—it’s often hard to know when to let go and submit that story!
Jacqueline – I remember reading that hint in Stephen King’s writing advice book, On Writing. Frankly, I was surprised because back then I thought he used a lot of extra words. I have noticed that he writes leaner lately.
Susan – I, too, like the idea of having that goal and when I’ve reached it, relax a bit, go over the piece one more time, then let it go free into the world.
Kaye – I agree. I wrote a lot of short stories before tackling novels, and I think they helped in so many ways—focus, being lean, with opening and endings, and on and on. I’ve never done well with flash, though, for some reason. The last one I wrote came back with a comment from the editor that it needed more detail. Which would put it over 1,000 words. LOL