If you’ve tried to write a manuscript, you’ve probably been at one end of the scale or the other, before. It’s hard to get a manuscript — or even a short story — to end up at the right word count. I know I’ve talked about this before, but a refresher never hurts.
While I’m not cutting down a manuscript to size right now, when a friend asked me for help, I called on all my experience and notes. My first manuscript originally ended at 120,000 words. I trimmed it to 80,000, edited it back up to around 95,000, then trimmed it down under 90,000 again.
For my current work-in-progress, I realized my word count was going to be on the short side, and there was a lot more story I could tell.
So. Let’s talk about how to get your manuscript to the wordcount you need, starting on the low end and working our way up.
If You Need 20,000 words or more
You’re going to have to add a major component. The easiest way to do this is what I’m doing in my current work-in-progress — to add another point-of-view character. But, a side quest can work as well, especially if it’s filtered into the story, not just spliced into the middle.
If You Need Less Than 20,000 words
This is where you’re going to want to flesh out your scenes, or add more internal monologue. Whatever you typically leave sparse when drafting. Perhaps a few character building scenes that flesh out the main and secondary characters and make your readers care more.
If You Need To Cut Less Than 20,000 Words
If it’s just a few thousand, or less than 10% of your work-in-progress (WIP), you can probably get away with cleaning up paragraphs, trimming sentences, and streamlining action.
You might start off looking at each of your scenes. Many writers find that they start scenes too early, and go longer than they need to be. Look at your scenes and chapters — can you trim paragraphs or pages from either end?
If You Need To Cut Over 20,000 Words
If you need to remove 10%-25% of your work in progress? Unless you are focused on one aspect, to the detriment of the story (be it descriptions, all the stage directions, info-dumps, or other) you’re going to have to work a bit harder.
You can try combining background characters, or even secondary characters, and dropping subplots. Perhaps even getting rid of a point-of-view character.
If You Need To Cut Over 50,000 Words
Sometimes, this happens with excessive world building. Sometimes, you’re following too many characters. Sometimes, the plot is too large for one book.
But usually? Just split the story. Find an emotional arch and partial goal and split the story there — or see where you could create one.
Have you ever had to massively adjust wordcount on a project? How did you do it?