When you've finished writing a story, cut it by 10%

You've finished writing a new story. You've rewritten and edited the story to the best of your abilities. You've received detailed critiques and incorporated that feedback. You've worked so hard on the story that you want to simply submit the damn thing and never look at it again.

Congratulations. Now's the time to cut 10% of the story's word count.

Before you scream and apply a baseball bat to my head, hear me out.

When an author rewrites and edits a story, the temptation is to add words. All authors have experienced this. There you are, doing rewrites and clarifying some jumbled exposition or giving more depth to a character interaction or explaining exactly who is speaking in that confusing scene with twenty characters engaging in a spirited dialog about the best way to murder an author. So you do all this and bam, your story has jumped by several thousand in the word count.

And that's perfectly okay. If you need more words to tell your story, then use them. That's what words are for. To tell stories.

But once all the rewriting and editing are complete and you feel that the story is finished, that's a great time to see what you can do to simplify the story. And a good way to do this is to set a 10% goal for cutting words from your story.

I've been doing this recently with my fiction and I've found this 10% goal forces an author to consider both the minutia of what you've written and the larger parts of your story. Is that flowery sentence really necessary? Is that minor plot device, which needs a long info dump to explain, essential to the story? Do you really need all those adjectives and adverbs and phrases?

As you go through your story cutting what isn't absolutely needed you'll find that a stronger story quickly emerges. This is often because less is more (unless you're actually using cliches like that in your story, in which case consider my advice to not cliche yourself into being a hack writer).

And before you think this is merely my advice, note that Stephen King gives similar advice in On Writing. According to King, one of the early critiques he received stated the following: "Not bad, but PUFFY. You need to revise for length. Formula: 2nd Draft = 1st Draft – 10%."

So the next time you finish a story, go back and try cutting 10%. I think you'll be happy with the result.