Saturday, August 31, 2013

How to Slash Your Word Count by 20-40%

…and tighten up your story without losing any of the good stuff!

by Jodie Renner, editor and author

Have you been told your story looks promising or even intriguing, but your novel is way too long? Today’s readers have shorter attention spans, and publishers don’t want to accept long novels from new writers, as they are so much more expensive to produce.

The current preferred length for thrillers, mysteries and romance is around 70,000–90,000 words. Anything over 100K is definitely considered too long in most genres these days. Well-written, finely crafted fantasies and historical sagas can run longer, but newbie writers need to earn their stripes first before attempting to sell a really long novel. Basically, every word needs to count. Every image and decision and action and reaction needs to drive the story forward. There’s no place for rambling or waxing eloquent or self-indulgent preening in today’s popular fiction! Thrillers and other suspense novels especially need to be fast-paced page-turners.

Some strategies for cutting the word count. It’s best to proceed roughly in this order, using any of the tips that apply to your novel:

First, consider:

~ If you have a meandering writing style, tighten it up. Condense long descriptions and backstory; take out repetitions of all kinds (imagery, plot points, ideas, descriptions, phrases, words); delete or condense scenes that drag, have insufficient tension, or just don’t drive the story forward; and in general, make your scenes, paragraphs and sentences leaner. See Chapters 9, 10, 11, 14 and 15 of my book Fire up Your Fiction.

In general, it’s best to start with big changes/cuts to plot, characters, and structure:

~ If your writing is quite tight but you have an intricate, involved plot, can you divide your really long novel into two or three in a series? But bear in mind that each book in the series needs its own plot arc and character arc – rising tension and some resolution, and a change/growth in the protagonist.

~ If the story doesn’t lend itself to being broken up, try making your plot less detailed. Cut or combine some of your less exciting plot points. Cut down on some of the “and then, and then, and then…”

~ Consider deleting one or two (or three) subplots, depending on how many you have.

~ Cut back on your cast of thousands. Too many characters can be confusing and annoying to the readers. Combine two or three characters into one. And don’t get into involved descriptions of minor, walk-on characters.

~ Consider deleting or condensing chapter one. Maybe even chapter two, too. Take out the warm-up, where you’re revving your engine, and start your story later.

~ Take out all or almost all backstory (character history) in the first few chapters and marble in just the essentials as you go along, on an “as-needed” basis only. This also helps add intrigue.

~ Delete most or all of any chapters that don’t have enough tension and change, that don’t drive the story forward. Add any essential bits to other chapters. (Save deleted stuff on another file.) Or condense two chapters and combine them into one.

~ Delete or condense scenes that don’t have enough tension or change, or add much to the plot or characterization. Condense parts where scenes drag, eliminating the boring bits. (Take out the parts that readers skip over.) See my article “Every Scene Needs Conflict and a Change" or Chapter 4 of my book, Writing a Killer Thriller.

~ Take out any weak links, remnants from earlier versions, stuff that just doesn’t fit there anymore (if it ever did).

Then evaluate your writing style, and the internal structure of your chapters and scenes:

~ Cut back on rambling or overly detailed descriptions of settings. With today’s access to TV, movies, the internet and travel, we no longer need the kind of detail readers of 100 years ago needed to understand the setting, so just paint with broad brush strokes, and leave out all the little details. Also, don’t describe the setting in neutral language. Filter any descriptions of surroundings through the eyes, ears, and attitude of your point of view character. 

~ Same with characters – no need to go into great detail. Give the most obvious and interesting details, and let the readers fill in the rest to their heart’s content. See my article “Character Descriptions – Detailed or Sketchy?”

~ Don’t repeat info. Don't have a character relating the details to another character of something that happened that the readers witnessed first-hand and already know about. Skip over it with a phrase like “She told him how she’d gotten injured.” 

~ Start scenes and chapters later and end them sooner. Cut out the warm-up and cool-down.

~ Skip over transitional times when not much happens. Replace with one or two sentences, or just a phrase, like “Three days later,”.

~ Eliminate or severely condense any “explanations” on subjects. Take out or condense any info dumps, self-indulgent rambling on pet topics, “teaching” sections, or rants. Keep these to the bare minimum, and give the info from a character’s point of view, with attitude, or through a lively conversation or heated argument. See Chapter 8 of Fire up Your Fiction.

~ Eliminate repetitions and redundancies. Just say it once – no need to say it again in a different way. You may think that will help emphasize your point, but it actually has the opposite effect. For more on this, see Chapter 9 of Fire up Your Fiction.

Finally, tighten your writing to create leaner paragraphs and sentences:

~ Try to delete one paragraph per page (or two); one sentence (or more) in each paragraph; and at least one word, preferably more, in each sentence. Cut out the deadwood!

~ Do a search for all those words that are just taking up space or weakening your prose, and delete most of them, like there is, there was, it is, it was, that, now, then, suddenly, immediately, and qualifiers like very, quite, kind of, sort of, somewhat, extremely, etc. Also, take out any other extra words that are cluttering up your sentences like “located”: Not: “The cafe was located on Main Street,” but: “The cafe was on Main Street.” And delete redundant add-ons like “in color,” “in size,” “in time,” and “in number.” Not, “The car was red in color” but “The car was red.” For more tips on streamlining your writing, see Chs. 14 and 15 of Fire up Your Fiction.

~ For better flow, condense prepositional phrases: Change “the captain of the team” to “the team captain”; change “in the vicinity of” to “near,” etc. For more, see Chs. 14 and 15 of Fire up Your Fiction.

For more tips on streamlining your writing and cutting out the deadwood, see Chapters 14 and 15 of Fire up Your Fiction.

Writers – Do you have any other ideas for reducing your word count?

Also, see my articles, “How to Save a Bundle on Editing Costs” and “Honing Your Craft.”

Sunday, August 25, 2013

REVISE FOR SUCCESS - A Stress-Free, Concrete Plan of Action for Revising, Editing, and Polishing Your Novel

by Jodie Renner, editor, author, speaker

New authors often underestimate the importance of revising your novel before publishing. As Ernest Hemingway said, “The first draft of anything is sh*t.” While the first draft of your novel is definitely not crap, it’s likely a long way from being as powerful and compelling and polished as it could be.

But where to start and how to proceed? A lot of writers feel overwhelmed about the revision and self-editing process as it just seems too daunting a task. The best thing to do is break it down into specific tasks. But to save time, energy, and frustration, the order of the tasks is critical. There’s no point in spending hours polishing up a scene or chapter if you later realize that scene/chapter doesn’t drive the story forward so it needs to be cut -- or at least significantly rewritten.
First, put your story aside for at least a week – two or three weeks or a month is even better.

Try not to think about it during that time. Focus on other things and just let it percolate in the back of your mind. Maybe have beta readers (savvy volunteer readers who don’t need to be writers) go through it and comment on what excited them, bored them, or confused them.

STEP 1. LOOK AT BIG-PICTURE ISSUES: premise, plot, POV, structure, characterization, pacing.
- Does the main premise your story is built on stand up to scrutiny? Will it actually work? Ask a few smart trusted friends if they think your main story idea/challenge/obstacle/dilemma is logical and believable. If not, revise it so readers won’t pick it apart later - in negative reviews. An example of this might be in a romance where the main obstacle keeping the heroine and hero apart is a simple misunderstanding that could be resolved by a quick conversation or even basic reasoning - that kind of skimpy premise will irritate readers rather than intrigue them.
- Is your plot interesting enough? Does your protagonist have strong motivations and a clear, critical goal? What’s preventing him/her from reaching this goal? Is there enough at stake? Enough conflict and tension?
- Is your main character multidimensional or flat like cardboard? Is he charismatic and appealing, with inner conflict and some regrets and baggage? In other words, interesting enough to hold readers’ attention through a whole novel? And do his decisions and actions fit with his personality, goals, and motivations? See my article, Creating Compelling Characters.

- Ditto with other important characters. Go for contrast among the main characters.

- POV: Are you staying firmly in the point of view of the viewpoint character for each scene? Or are you hovering above or head-hopping? See my posts on point of view:

~ POV 101: Get into Your Protagonist’s Head and Stay There (for most of the novel)

~ POV 102 – How to Avoid Head-Hopping

~ POV 103 – Engage Your Readers with Deep Point of View
- What about structure and the order of chapters and scenes? Create a scene outline, with just a few words about each chapter or scene. Include the POV character for each scene and the main conflict or source of tension for that scene, and what changes in that scene. Cut them apart and play with the order of them. Be sure to save the biggest conflict/dilemma the MC faces for the climax. 

- Length: If your story is over 90,000 words, look for ways you can tighten it. Maybe your writing style is rambling and overly wordy, or you have too many characters or too many sub-plots. Or too much time spent on transitions and quiet scenes where not much happens. Spark up or delete any parts that seem boring or repetitive. For concrete tips on tightening up your story without losing any of the good stuff, see my post, How to Slash Your Word Count by 20-40%.

If your writing style is sparse, show important scenes through action, reactions, dialogue, and thoughts, instead of summarizing or telling, and add sensory details, visual clues, and character reactions.
- Are there chapters or scenes that drag, that could be condensed or eliminated? Every scene needs conflict and a change. If a scene doesn’t drive the plot forward or contribute to characterization, revise it, shorten it, or take it out.
- Is your opening compelling? Does it hook the reader, and situate them as to whose story it is (best to start out in the point of view of the main character right away) and where and when it's taking place? Should you start your story later? Or earlier?
- Are there places where the writing gets bogged down in explanations, description or backstory ("info dumps")? Trim these way down. Avoid interrupting the story to explain things to the readers.
- Are you telling the reader about important scenes instead of showing them in real time, with action, reaction, and dialogue? When it comes to important scenes, “show, don’t tell.” But skip past unimportant scenes and transitions.


See my book, Fire up Your Fiction, for concrete tips, with examples, on revising and polishing your fiction or nonfiction writing.

- Look at your paragraphs. Do you have any really long paragraphs? Break them down into shorter ones. Have you said the same thing twice or more? Cut out the repetitions to make the original statement stronger.

- Streamline your writing. Trim down long, convoluted sentences to make them tighter and more to-the-point.

- Amp up your word choices. Use strong, specific verbs and nouns that bring the scenes and characters to life.

- Cut out most -ly adverbs and replace tired, generic verbs like “walked” and “went” with strong, specific, evocative verbs, like "stomped" or "strode" or "shuffled."

- Add in lots of character reactions and sensory details to bring your characters to life on the page.

- Does your dialogue sound natural? Read it out loud or role-play with others, each taking a character’s dialogue to read aloud. Each character should sound different, not like the author. And their speaking style should vary according to to their gender, age, background, education, social situation, personality, etc.


This is the last step. You’re wasting your time if you do this too early, and you’re wasting your money if you pay anyone for proofreading or a light final edit before you’ve eliminated or condensed unneeded or boring chapters, scenes, and paragraphs, and trimmed down sentences.

Proofread for typos, spelling, punctuation, and missing words, and keep an eye out for repetitions and places where the prose lacks sparkle. You’ll catch these when you read it out loud.

To see things you’ve missed in prior passes:

- Change the font and print out your story on paper or send it to your e-reader.

- Read it in a different location than where you wrote it.

- Read it through out loud. Underline or make note of any parts where you stumble or that sound unnatural or overly wordy - that don't have an easy flow.

- To look for small errors, read through it with a piece of paper under the line, and keep moving it down. You can also try reading it from the end to the beginning, but read each sentence from beginning to end.

- Then make the changes on your Word document.

Good luck with this process! I look forward to seeing your novel in print! My award-winning writing guide, Fire up Your Fiction, is full of concrete tips for revising your novel, with lots of before-and-
after examples.

Jodie Renner is a freelance fiction editor and the award-winning author of three craft-of-writing guides in her series An Editor’s Guide to Writing Compelling Fiction:Captivate Your Readers, Fire up Your Fiction, and Writing a Killer Thriller. She has also published two clickable time-saving e-resources to date: Quick Clicks: Spelling List and Quick Clicks: Word Usage. You can find Jodie at,, at The Kill Zone blog alternate Mondays, and on Facebook, Twitter, and Google+.  Subscribe to Jodie's sporadic (3-6 times a year) newsletter HERE.


Saturday, August 17, 2013


Some Excellent Guides for Writing and Revising Your Novel or Short Story

A list of recommended books, compiled by Jodie Renner, editor, author, & speaker

Follow Jodie on Twitter.

Click on the titles below to check out the books on Amazon.


Writing Fiction for Dummies, by Randy Ingermanson and Peter Economy. Not for dummies at all! An excellent resource.

The Everything Guide to Writing Your First Novel, by Hallie Ephron

How to Write a Damn Good Novel, by James N. Frey

A Writer’s Guide to Fiction, A concise, practical guide for novelists and short story writers, by Elizabeth Lyon

How NOT to Write a Novel – 200 Classic Mistakes and How to Avoid Them – A Misstep-by-Misstep Guide, by Howard Mittelmark and Sandra Newman

The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Writing a Novel, by Tom Monteleone

Outlining Your Novel - Map Your Way to Success, by K.M. Weiland

Plot & Structure, by James Scott Bell


Revision and Self-Editing - Techniques for transforming your first draft into a finished novel, by James Scott Bell. Just excellent!

Manuscript Makeover – Revision Techniques No Fiction Writer Can Afford to Ignore, by Elizabeth Lyon

Fire up Your Fiction (Style that Sizzles & Pacing for Power) - An Editor’s Guide to Writing Compelling Stories, by Jodie Renner

Thanks, But This Isn’t For Us – A (Sort of) Compassionate Guide to Why Your Writing Is Being Rejected, by Jessica Page Morrell 

Self-Editing for Fiction Writers – How to edit yourself into print, by Renni Browne and Dave King

38 Most Common Fiction Writing Mistakes (And How to Avoid Them) by Jack M. Bickham

Between the Lines, by Jessica Page Morrell

Rock Your Revisions: A Simple System for Revising Your Novel, by Cathy Yardley


Writing the Breakout Novel, by Donald Maass

Writing 21st Century Fiction - High Impact Techniques for Exceptional Storytelling, by Donald Mass

Stein on Writing, by Sol Stein
On Writing, by Stephen King

Bird by Bird, by Anne Lamott

The Successful Novelist, by David Morrell

The Fire in Fiction – Passion, Purpose, and Techniques to Make Your Novel Great, by Donald Maass


How to Write a Damn Good Thriller, by James N. Frey

Conflict & Suspense, by James Scott Bell

Writing a Killer Thriller - An Editor’s Guide to Writing Compelling Fiction, by Jodie Renner

How to Write a Damn Good Mystery, by James N. Frey

Writing and Selling Your Mystery Novel, by Hallie Ephron


Characters, Emotion & Viewpoint, by Nancy Kress

The Emotion Thesaurus: A Writer’s Guide to Character Expression, by Angela Ackerman and Becca
Puglisi. An excellent resource for finding just the right character response for the situation!


On Writing Romance – how to craft a novel that sells, by Leigh Michaels. Also contains lots of great tips for writing any kind of fiction.

The Everything Guide to Writing a Romance Novel, by Christie Craig and Faye Hughes

The Busy Writer's Tips on Writing Romance, by Marg McAlister 

The Romance Writer's Handbook, by Rebecca Vinyard


Writing Great Books for Young Adults – Everything you need to know from crafting the idea to landing a publishing deal, by Regina Brooks. Excellent reading for any fiction writer.

Writing Young Adult Fiction for Dummies, by Deborah Halverson

Writing Irresistible Kidlit: The Ultimate Guide to Crafting Fiction for Young Adult and Middle Grade Readers, by Mary Kole

Wild Ink: Success Secrets to Writing and Publishing for the Young Adult Market, by Victoria Hanley

Second Sight: An Editor's Talks on Writing, Revising, and Publishing Books for Children and Young Adults, by Cheryl B. Klein

Writing for Children and Young Adults, by Dr. Marion Crook


Shimmering Images – A Handy Little Guide to Writing Memoir, by Lisa Dale Norton

Writing the Memoir: From Truth to Art, 2nd Edition , by Judith Barrington

Fiction writers - do you know of any great resources for writing compelling fiction that I should add to this list? Please share your ideas in the comments below and I'll add them! Thanks!

Jodie Renner has published two books to date in her series, An Editor’s Guide to Writing Compelling Fiction: Writing a Killer Thriller and Fire up Your Fiction (Style That Sizzles & Pacing for Power), which has won two book awards so far. Look for her third book in the series, out soon. For more info, please visit Jodie’s author website or editor website, her blogs, Resources for Writers, Crime Fiction Collective, and The Kill Zone, or find her on Facebook, Twitter, and Google+. And sign up for her newsletter.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Goodreads Giveaways, Suspense Magazine, & Southern Writers Magazine

I'm thrilled to announce that an article of mine, "Adding Tension, Suspense, & Intrigue to Your Story," has been published in the August 2013 issue of the gorgeous and prestigious Suspense Magazine.

Click here to go to Suspense Magazine to check out my article, plus other great articles by or about Lisa Gardner, John Gilstrap, Erica Spindler, Jon Land, and many more, as well as book reviews and interviews.

Also, it turns out I'm being interviewed in the September issue of the excellent Southern Writers Magazine, so check that out soon, when it comes out! Click on the name to go to Southern Writers Magazine.

Finally, congratulations to the two lucky people below, who through a Goodreads Giveaway, each won a trade paperback copy of my book

Style That Sizzles & Pacing for Power - An Editor's Guide to Writing Compelling Fiction:

Vivian Deliz, of Stoneridge, Virginia

Arlene Prunkl, of Kelowna, BC

I'll also be giving away two trade paperback copies of my other book,

Writing a Killer Thriller - An Editor's Guide to Writing Compelling Fiction,

on Goodreads, Aug. 14-28. That's starting today.

Click HERE to sign up for this giveaway on Goodreads.

Both books are also available as e-books. And you don't need a Kindle to enjoy e-books. You can download and read them on your computer, tablet, or smartphone.

Jodie Renner, a freelance fiction editor specializing in thrillers and other fast-paced fiction, has published two books to date in her series, An Editor’s Guide to Writing Compelling Fiction: WRITING A KILLER THRILLER and STYLE THAT SIZZLES & PACING FOR POWER, both available in e-book and trade paperback.

For more info, please visit Jodie’s author website or editor website, or find her on Facebook or Twitter.

Sunday, August 4, 2013


by Jodie Renner, editor & author

I just sent out my first newsletter, and here's the text of it. To subscribe to my future newsletters (3-12 per year), click on the link below. Also, please let me know of any writing-related topics you'd like me to cover in blog posts. Thanks, and keep on writing!

Welcome to Resources for Writers! My aim is to offer lots of great links to useful articles and other valuable resources for fiction writers, as well as alerts on freebies and discounts on my books and others.

Feel free to forward this blog post to any other writers you know, and perhaps suggest they subscribe to receive the next newsletter directly. Here’s the link to subscribe to “Resources for Writers” occasional newsletters:

Scroll down for links to giveaways and useful blog posts by me and others.

Summertime, and the livin’ is...hectic? This spring and summer have been crazy busy! Besides editing fiction and writing craft-of-fiction advice, I’ve also been speaking to writers’ groups. In May & July, I presented two workshops and have other panels and workshops planned for upcoming writing conferences.

Also, I’ve been busy revising and expanding my Writing a Killer Thriller An Editor’s Guide to Writing Compelling Fiction (new edition now in print, too), writing blog posts, editing fiction manuscripts for others, judging self-published books for Writer’s Digest, and attending Thrillerfest in NYC in July, where I participated in a panel “How to Be a Masterful Editor – of Your Own Work.”

And I’m preparing a workshop on “Deep Point of View” for Killer Nashville in three weeks, where I’ll also be on a panel called “Be Your Own Editor – Make Your Book the Best it Can Be.” And finally, I’ll be contributing to two magazines, in August & Sept. (details & links below).


I’m giving away a book a week for the months of August & October on Goodreads. Here’s the schedule and links for August. Click on the title to go to Goodreads.

Aug. 1 - 14 – 2 print copies of STYLE THAT SIZZLES & PACING FOR POWER will be given away.

Aug. 14 - 28 – 2 print copies of WRITING A KILLER THRILLER will be given away.

This pattern of Giveaways on Goodreads will repeat in October (2 weeks for each book, one free book per week).


Click on the title to go to the article.

- Developing a Strong Third-Person Voice, by Jodie Renner, The Kill Zone

- Analyzing Book Description Copy, by James Scott Bell, The Kill Zone

- The Readers Sound Off! How They Read, What They Like and Where They Find Us, by Marie Force, New York Times, USA Today and Wall Street Journal Bestselling Author

- What Does an Agent Want to See When They Google You? By Chuck Sambuchino:

- Thought Verbs, by Chuck Palahniuk:

- Tips for Writing Compelling Back Cover Copy, by Jodie Renner, Crime Fiction Collective:

- Basic Formatting of Your Manuscript (Formatting 101), by Jodie Renner:

- Revising, Editing, and Polishing Your Novel, by Jodie Renner:

- Write a Killer Thriller Opening, by Jodie Renner, Writers Forensics blog:

- Adding Suspense, Tension, & Intrigue to Your Story, by Jodie Renner, The Thrill Begins:

 - Big-Picture Problems to Look for in Your Novel , CFC:

- Checklist for Adding Suspense & Intrigue, by Jodie Renner, The Kill Zone:



Suspense Magazine, August 2013 issue: “Adding Tension, Suspense, & Intrigue to Your Story” by Jodie Renner:

Southern Writers Magazine, Sept.-Oct. issue – interview of Jodie Renner, freelance editor:


- Aug. 23-25, 2013 - Killer Nashville Conference, Nashville, Tenn. :

Jodie will present a workshop called “Deep Point of View, or How to Avoid Head-Hopping.”

Also, she’ll be on a panel called “Be Your Own Editor – Make Your Book the Best it Can Be.”

- July 13, 2013: Thrillerfest, New York City. Jodie participated in a panel called “How to Become a Masterful Editor—of Your Own Work.” She also distributed three relevant handouts on revision and self-editing.

- July 18, 2013: London Writers Society, London, Ontario: Jodie presented a workshop on “Self-Publishing on Amazon.”

- May 2013: Jodie presented a workshop called "12 Do's & Don'ts for a Compelling Opening" to the London Writers Society.

Jodie Renner, a freelance fiction editor specializing in thrillers and other fast-paced fiction, has published two books to date in her series, An Editor’s Guide to Writing Compelling Fiction: WRITING A KILLER THRILLER and STYLE THAT SIZZLES & PACING FOR POWER, both available in e-book and trade paperback.

For more info, please visit Jodie’s author website or editor website, or find her on Facebook or Twitter.