Pruning your Manuscript

Yesterday morning and today, I went through my Mylar garden and found a lot of deadwood. Some balloons couldn’t hold helium, but looked great with air. So I filled the air balloons and decorated my walls with them. Others couldn’t handle air or helium, so I had to discard them. Some balloons held their gas nicely, but one had gotten detached from the vine. I transplanted the stand-alone into a trunk of weights with other balloons. Pruning my balloon trees takes several days if I want to do it right.

Then I got to thinking about When Blood Reigns, the manuscript now in the hands of an editor. Before I sent it out, I did a lot of pruning, and I anticipate more before I submit it to a publisher. With the Pro Writing Aid, I winnowed out adverbs, “to be” verbs and vague descriptions like “some,” “many,” “several,” etc. Cutting adverbs alone took away 1,000 words. Replacing “to be” verbs cut another thousand. Ditto thousand for overused words and dialogue tags instead of “he said, she said.” I also found “darling” phrases that were cliché, and others that didn’t belong. Maybe they’ll work better with a different storyline.

Was I under pressure to meet a word count? No, but wordy manuscripts can lose a writer unless the writer happens to be Stephen King or Dean Koontz. Like many writers, I’m married to my manuscript and it’s hard to see the flaws without an editing tool or live editor. In particular, I struggle with repetition; my beta readers often point out the same adjective used twice in one sentence. I don’t think my forthcoming eye surgery will change that, though I might catch more errors on manuscript submissions afterwards.

I’ve started working on another novel, with elements of a plot coming together. So I’ve had to turn off my internal editor and think plot. When the revisions start, I know I’ll find plenty of adverbs. The trick is to find them before I send it to a publisher.

How is the pruning process going for you? Do you struggle with repetition, adverbs, and other issues? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Steel Rose features compelling horror fiction by Barbara Custer.

About Barbara Custer

Author of: Twilight Healer Steel Rose Life Raft: Earth City of Brotherly Death Close Liaisons Infinite Sight When Blood Reigns Infinite Sight Publisher / Editor of Night to Dawn Books & Magazine
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  1. I write mostly non-fiction, but when I write fiction, mapping out the plot is the hardest part for me. I do a brief outline and then flesh it out. I edit as I go along and also when I complete the work. I love trying out different words as much as I like trying on new outfits. Difference in shades of meanings of words excite me. Great article, Barbara! Thanks.

  2. Writing has to come first with me. Editing which includes pruning comes second. Even with a short story you can prune back too much and need an editor to let you know that that’s what you’ve done. Recently I wrote a story where I had people crawling along a river bed. Since you can’t crawl along a river bed if there’s water in the river, I took it for given readers would realize the river bed was without H2o. One word put everything right. The word was parched.

  3. Joseph J. Patchen

    The constant process that my writing students just don’t seem to understand. Revision is the most important aspect to writing. It is during revision that one’s creativity is actually activated. As always, great article. Hope all is well Barbara.

    • Things are going well, and thanks. I agree with you about revision – sometimes when the editor starts asking questions, that jars my muse, and then I’m able to answer. Barbara of the Balloons 🙂

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