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Editing Exercise: Cut word density to speed reader comprehension

Novel & Short Story Writer's Market

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There are brakes in your writing. Take the brakes off. Put your foot on the accelerator. Edit.

I’m writing a little sci-fi short story just to break things up. Here’s my original paragraph.

CONTEXT: A teen who wants to be an informant for a cruel theocratic state challenges the narrator’s father about his patriotism which puts the father’s life in danger. The next day, the boy is found murdered in an alley.

1st DRAFT excerpt:

“I am glad that bully is dead, father. He shouldn’t have spoken to you that way.”

“No, Mark. What happened to that boy is a tragedy and I grieve for him and his parents. When a child is killed, all the parents’ hopes and dreams die with him.” Mark would never forget his father’s face as he mourned his accuser. His eyes were wet.

2nd DRAFT excerpt:

“I’m glad that bully is dead, father. He shouldn’t have spoken to you that way.”

“No, son. When a child dies, his parents’ dreams die with him.” His father’s eyes were wet.

EDITING COMMENTARY: Notice what I’m doing here. I’m eliminating repeated information. I can tell the story in fewer words and not lose anything. I don’t need to explain more. I gave it to the reader once clearly. After that, I’m hitting them over the head with it instead of providing the broad strokes so they can fill in the rest of the scene. It is a rare thing to underwrite. Most people overwrite. Obviously in my first draft, I write too much. Always do. Whittling is fun.

This isn’t the only way I could have edited this piece, but I want to write this one especially short. I have a  5,000 word count for this project and a lot of things happen before we get to the end, even though the structure is a slow build to a twist ending.

When I read something that is dense to read, where obvious economies are not eliminated, I often get bored and I wonder if the author is trying to disguise a lack of plot.


Don’t repeat yourself. Don’t repeat yourself.


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Filed under: Editing, manuscript evaluation, My fiction, publishing, Writing exercise, writing tips, , , ,

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