Approaching the 2019 Nanowrimo while juggling two part-time jobs and full-time grad school (plus motherhood but who's counting) meant that I had to make some realistic choices. Could I expect to write anything new in 30 days, especially 50k words worth of something new?
No. Not really. BUT I could put to practice some of the sweet developmental and copyediting skills I've gained over the last year in the Book Publishing MA program at Portland State University.
So my goal became simple: cut 50k words from a bloated 150k manuscript instead. The bloated manuscript in question is Tin Road.
The first step in downsizing or upsizing is to know what you're working with. Since I typically don't write from highly structured outlines (I use a very rough outline and take notes in the same document as I write), I had to reverse engineer an outline based on the current material. I crafted a table, listed out the chapters, gave them breezy subtitles, and loosely described each chapters content.
Then I color-coded. So much color coding. I love a good color based organizational system. I used yellow and red because they're bold and bossy. Yellow was like "this chapter could be trimmed" and red was like "probably could cut this entirely." There weren't nearly as many red rows as I'd hoped, which meant the harder job of making line by line cuts. But also, at the same time, cleaning up the content. I did get to hack away at cringe-worthy scenes or moments that just weren't feeling good.
ONE PIECE OF ADVICE. If the writing doesn't feel good, if it makes you cringe, then it's not good and you should cut it without mercy. Your gut instincts are always on target. I did some gut cuts , as well as trimming dialogue.
DIALOGUE CAN ALWAYS BE TRIMMED. No reader needs a "yeah" or "well" to kick off a sentence and no reader needs nearly as much blocking or descriptions in the dialogue as you think they do. I even found myself dispensing of dialogue tags altogether in favor of trusting a reader would know who was speaking based on voice and placement in the scene. Kinda tricky and scary, but worth it to step out of the way and let the characters talk to one another without leaning back on blocking. Plus, it dropped my word count considerably.
BYE BYE EXPOSITION. Part of the book is following the journey of two fugitives. It's a road book, and that meant a lot of logistics plotting and descriptions of new environments. Which is where a lot of the bloat was located. Who needs three pages of describing a location that is only gonna be used to stage about two minutes of action? Cut cut cut.
SCENE IT BEFORE. And sometimes there is a scene that's almost exactly like another scene except the characters are maybe saying different things. Is it needed? Could the dialogue be moved elsewhere? Good riddance then.
THE END RESULT. Not as successful as I hoped, but for a couple of reasons. I fell about 20k words short of my lofty goal, which was a bummer. HOWEVER, I did emerge with an entirely edited and fairly clean copy of a manuscript that was reduced by 20% (maybe, I don't math well). AND keeping the 120k words made sense in light of the fact that I had two narrators telling different stories (interwoven, but still). That was roughly 60k words per narrator and story which is lean. If I cut anything else, it might end up causing both tales to be anemic.
AND NOW. I'm giving it a final once-over and then formatting it to be entered into the Smashwords catalog and then the 2019 Multnomah County Library Writer's Project contest by the 12/15 deadline. Wish me luck.
Regardless of its acceptance into the contest/catalog, I plan to make Metal Heart and Tin Road available for ebook and print this upcoming year.
Melinda Jasmine Crouchley, YA science fiction author and professional editor.