Monday, July 13, 2015

Clip, Clip Here: Pruning Your Word Count by Kathy Halsey

[Disclaimer: All GROG posts this week come to you while many of us are at the WOW Retreat. Read with caution! LOL]
Hum along with me as I sing from the Wizard of Oz, "Clip, clip here, clip, clip there. We give the roughest claws that certain savoir faire in the merry old land of Oz." A makeover feels wonderful, doesn't it? Hair trimmed, nails clipped, manuscript tightened. Yes, even our work needs trimming, especially if we write picture books. Lately I've been called the queen of "slash and burn."I don't mind owning that title. Let me tell you my tricks of the trade.

Trade Secrets
  • Look for "orphans." Linda Sue Park shared this secret last year at the LA SCBWI annual conference. Skim your text for paragraphs that only have a few words hanging out alone on a line. Re-read that 'graph and cut it until there's a nice chunk of text w/no "hangers-on."
  • Think carefully about monikers. Main characters with middle names or titles can spell trouble for word count, and they are tiresome to read aloud, too. Here are a few examples from my work or other critique partners: Lil' Boogie, John Jr., Gracie Mae. If you must use a complicated name, use it once and then shorten it through the rest of the story.
  • Tag lines can be slashed in dialogue. Once a conversation ensues, you really may not need the "said Kate," or "exclaimed Evan." Trust your reader to know who your characters are by their distinctive voices. 
  • Scan and cut prepositional phrases. Instead of saying, "the mouth of the river," try "the river's mouth."
  • Modify the modifier. If you must use an adjective or adverb, just use one. 
  • Print your manuscript and peruse it for repeated phrases that add nothing. We all have those repeated lines that can be slashed. Usually these are transitional words such as "next," "now, "then." If there's a page turn, it serves as a physical reminder of time, so slash away.
  • Dummies! Not calling anybody out here, just know that I don't always create a picture book dummy, but when I do, I usually cut a ton of words.
  • Pare verbs. I'm prone to stringing verbs together in my first drafts. So I watch for constructions like "I went to see a movie," and whittle it to "I saw a movie." 
  • Chunks of text - How a draft looks on a page is important. I look for what I call "dense" paragraphs which are huge chunks of text. I reread these to see if I can thin them out. 
Ah, feel better? You look marvelous with that new trim and so does your lean, mean manuscript.


  1. Good morning, Kathy! Thank you! I'm humming and a singing! (I should cut that "a", right!)

  2. Good morning, Kathy! Thank you! I'm humming and a singing! (I should cut that "a", right!)

  3. Replies
    1. Excellent secrets, Kathy. I especially like the tip to slash tag lines.

  4. e are having the best time, Sydney.

  5. This was all great advice Kathy. Thank you!

  6. Nice tips! I sure can use all the help I can get in cutting words. Thanks.

  7. Great stuff - and just a little thing to add for looking for repeated words. Have you ever used You can paste your text there and it will create a "word cloud" - the size of the word in the cloud is determined by how many times a word is used. VERY handy for finding repetition (and fun too!)

    1. Fab use of Wordle - had never thought of it that way Joanne! Appreciations!