Friday, August 21, 2009

Editing Tip #9: Cutting the Fat in Your Manuscript

Kathy Ide’s Editing Tips
© Kathy Ide, 2009

In this column, freelance author, editor, and speaker Kathy Ide shares tips on self-editing your manuscript.

~ Cutting the Fat in Your Manuscript ~

To tighten your manuscript, do what I call a Scissor Edit. Cut out everything that doesn’t absolutely need to be in the manuscript. The tighter the writing, the more publishers—and readers—will like it. Here are a few ways to cut. Look for more next week!

Change multi-word phrases to single words. For example:

at this point in time (now)
due to the fact that (because)
have an expectation (expect)
in the near future (soon)
it is clear that (clearly)
make an arrangement (arrange)
with regard to (about)
made the decision (decided)
in spite of the fact that (although)
has a tendency (tends)
poured down rain outside (rained)

Change multi-word verb phrases to single descriptive verbs.

Avoid overuse of adverbs, especially –ly words (like especially). Search your manuscript for words ending in “-ly.” You’ll probably find a lot of them, most of which can be deleted.
Examples: basically, definitely, exactly, highly, really, simply, truly, utterly

A good, strong verb is always preferred over a weak verb with an adjective. Replace verb phrases with single action verbs wherever possible. For example, what single verb could you use to replace “walked slowly”? (stalked, straggled, ambled, strolled, wandered, lumbered, padded, plodded, trudged) How about “walked quickly”? (barreled, bustled, darted, hurried, jogged, raced, ran, scurried, sprinted) Each word carries a slightly different connotation.

Cut Out the Boring Stuff

Look for personal anecdotes that may be interesting to you and your family members, but wouldn’t necessarily hold the interest of someone who doesn’t know you. Especially avoid personal anecdotes that are nothing more than your own diatribes against people or situations that have made you angry or upset. If a story doesn’t apply to the majority of members in your target audience, take it out.

Cut Out Repetition

If you’ve said something once, don’t say it again. Look for sentences that begin with “As stated previously,” “As you will recall,” “The point I’m trying to make.” Give your readers the benefit of the doubt that they understood you the first time. If they didn’t, they can always go back.

Keep an eye out for words or phrases you’ve used repeatedly in the manuscript, especially if they come within close proximity (besides invisible words like the and said).

Cut out “action delays.”

a. Rather than say someone “began to” do something, just show them doing it.
b. Instead of telling the possible (“He could sense that nobody believed him”), show the actual (“He sensed nobody believed him”).
c. Instead of “He decided to go,” just write “He went” . . . unless he decided to go and then didn’t.

Cut out weak beginnings to sentences.

Eliminate phrases like “As a matter of fact,” “As far as I’m concerned,” “For the most part,” “It is interesting to note,” etc. If what you’re about to say isn’t interesting to note, it shouldn’t be there.


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Kathy Ide has been writing for publication since 1988. She has written books, articles, play and movie scripts, short stories, devotionals, and curriculum. She is a full-time freelance editor, offering a full range of editorial services for aspiring writers, established authors, commercial book publishers, subsidy publishers, and magazines. Her services include proofreading, copyediting, substantive/content editing, coauthoring, ghostwriting, and mentoring/coaching. She also speaks at writers’ conferences across the country. She is the founder and coordinator of The Christian PEN: Proofreaders and Editors Network ( and the Christian Editor Network ( To find out more, please visit

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1 comment:

kc said...

What if you're a bare bones kind of gal and need to add meat instead of trim fat? How do you add substantive side plots or extra action or dialogue to lengthen a work?