Cut Word Count Without Cutting Your Story (Pitch Wars Revision #4 & Show Don’t Tell #6)

Things I Struggle With and How I’m Fixing Them
(I’m outlining my revisions process during the September and October of Pitch Wars (which is what again?). It’s not just me! Other mentees are blogging, too.)


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Word Count is TOOOOO long.

The easiest way to cut word count is to cut scenes. Do we really need this conversation when we could just sum it up in two sentences of summary? Slash. How do we feel about the three day excursion that doesn’t move the plot forward? Chop.

Sometimes, you want to keep a scene, but you still need to cut word count. All the events are relevant, but it’s still somehow too long. I’m going to give you this wonderful, helpful analogy-story of me eating an egg.

“Just eat the last of the egg,” argued Grams.

“I don’t like the hard yellow part,” I say, with the defiance of a child who has not yet learned the magic of ketchup.

“Just two more bites, and then you’re done, okay?” Grams had her this isn’t really a question so eat the stupid egg face on.

I stared at the egg with the contemplative determination of a kid who was just learning to toe the line of literal interpretation and “the spirit not the letter of the law”. It’s a dangerous place reserved for spunky children who want to go swimming because technically it’s not a storm if there’s not lightning or thunder. (You can boil all this conflict down to one thing: The word “technically” had entered my vocabulary.)

Thus began my arduous task.I carefully sliced the white bits from the sides of the egg, carefully arranging it until I had enough for a forkful. I showed my grandma Exhibit A, got a nod of approval, and downed the bite of egg.

“One more bite,” she said victoriously, eyeing the perfectly round yellow glob left on my plate.

I stared at the egg. One more bite. I could do this. But how?

I flipped the egg over. The bottom of the egg was white, and I carefully peeled and sliced and pulled off every scrap of white. Minutes later, I showed Grams my final and clinching Exhibit B.

She had on that face of “You technically did exactly what I asked even though you know what I meant.” But she also had the eyes of, “OK, I’m a little impressed, and maybe I should reward cleverness?”

And, as is the case when it comes down to face vs. eyes, the eyes won.

Down the hatch went Exhibit B, and down the trashcan went the Evil Yellow Egg Glob.

That’s basically a victory of my young childhood. I know you’re impressed. (Note to any people raising tiny humans out there: always acknowledge and praise cleverness. It gives you pride and inspires you to aim for cleverness and intelligent solutions later in life. Or, like me, it makes them snarky, sarcastic rule-skirter who you want to smack on the back of the head about 70% of the time. Either way, I think that’s a win.)

Let’s tie this back into revision, shall we?


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Chop it To Bits!

Like shaving off the white parts of an egg, you can cut down on the “extra” material that isn’t relevant to your story. A lot of this has to do with wordiness (either in dialogue, syntax, or basic grammar). You can cut down the word count without cutting the story. Let’s try it with the brief story above. In it’s above form, it’s at 310 words. Let’s cut that down to size like the bright yellow glob it should be, yes?

Just eat the last of the egg Eat the rest of your egg,” argued Grams.

“I don’t like the hard yellow part.” I say, with the defiance of a child who has not yet learned I hadn’t yet learned the magic of ketchup.

Just tTwo more bites, and then you’re done, okay?” Grams‘ face said: had her this isn’t really it’s not a question, so eat the stupid egg face on.

I stared at the egg with the contemplative determination. of a kid who was just learning to toe the fine line of between literal interpretation and following the spirit not the letter of the law. It’s a dangerous place reserved for spunky children who want to go swimming because technically it’s not a storm if there’s not lightning or thunder. (You can boil all this conflict down to one thing: Tthe word “technically” had entered entering my vocabulary.)

Thus began my arduous task. I carefully sliced the white bits from the sides of the egg, carefully arranging it until I had enough for a on the forkful. I showed my grandma Grams Exhibit A. got After a nod of approval, and downed ate the bite of egg.

“One more bite.she said victoriously, She eyeingd the perfectly round yellow glob left on my plate.

I stared at the egg. One more bite. I could do this. But how?

I flipped the egg over. The bottom of the egg was white, and I carefully peeled, and sliced, and pulled at the thin layeroff every scrap of white. Minutes later, I showed Grams my final and clinching Exhibit B: the second forkful.

She had on that face of “You technically did exactly what I asked even though you know this isn’t what I meant.” But she also had the eyes of, “OK, I’m a little impressed. and mMaybe I should reward cleverness?”

And, as is the case when it comes down to of face vs. eyes, the eyes won.

Down the hatch went Exhibit B, and down the trashcan went the Evil Yellow Egg Glob. (aka E.Y.E. In which case, the EYE did NOT win. It’s a little confusing, I know.)

Even with the addition of the completely unnecessary (and yet funny) sentence at the end, this drops the word count down to 231. That’s a decrease of 25%!  (Aside: It’s weird to have an exclamation point after a percent-sign, yes? Or is that just me?%)

Almost a quarter of the length cut down from just getting rid of unnecessary language! Crazy town! If you want to see the finished version of the Egg Story (without all the cross outs and green text), you can scroll to the bottom of this post.  But all the exciting stuff happens up here, to be honest. Like percentages and other punctuation getting together for a party which somehow feels like an overactive censor: %!%! %?!%. See? Exciting. Then again, you might find self actualization while scrolling that extra distance!

So, take a look at the final version below. What else would you cut or add back in?

What do you do when you’ve got to cut word count?


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Want more writing tips?

  • Check out the previous posts I’ve done on revision.
  • Or check out the Show Don’t Tell Learn By Example series.
  • If you have questions or suggestions, comment here or tweet it at the #pitchwars hashtag on Twitter!
  • Don’t want to scroll back up? Here’s the list of blogging mentees I mentioned earlier.

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Shiny finished version:

“Eat the rest of your egg,” argued Grams.

“I don’t like the yellow part.” I hadn’t yet learned the magic of ketchup.

“Two more bites, and you’re done, okay?” Grams’ face said: it’s not a question, so eat the stupid egg.

I stared at the egg with contemplative determination. I was just learning the fine line between literal interpretation and following the spirit of the law. It’s a dangerous place reserved for children who want to go swimming because technically it’s not a storm if there’s not lightning or thunder. (You can boil this conflict down to the word “technically” entering my vocabulary.)

I carefully sliced white bits from the sides, arranging it on the fork. I showed Grams Exhibit A. After a nod of approval, I ate the bite.

“One more.” She eyed the round yellow glob.

I stared at the egg. One more bite. I could do this.

I flipped the egg over. The bottom was white, and I peeled, sliced, and pulled at the thin layer. Minutes later, I showed Grams Exhibit B: the second forkful.

She had on that face of “You know this isn’t what I meant.” But she also had the eyes of, “OK, I’m a little impressed.”

And, as is always the case of face vs. eyes, the eyes won.

Down the hatch went Exhibit B, and down the trashcan went Evil Yellow Egg.


(hey there, folks who scrolled all the way down. This is just an extra “hey there” in case you didn’t find self-actualization on the way here. It’s a good consolation, right? And really, you’ve gotten three “hey there”s including this last one, so really you’re coming out ahead.)

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6 thoughts on “Cut Word Count Without Cutting Your Story (Pitch Wars Revision #4 & Show Don’t Tell #6)

  1. Great editing! I love that you doing this series because I’m in the editing stage. I actually cut out an entire page the other day. The conversation the characters had didn’t have anything to do with… well, anything. It was obvious that I was just trying to boost my word count to hit my daily goal, lol.

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