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.
- 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.