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Hello, writers. As I was working on my most recent revision, it occurred to me that a big part of revising is playing the game of how-briefly-can-I-say-this.

Let’s say you’re submitting a manuscript for a genre in which books are expected to be around 80,000 words. So your manuscript (unless you really like creating extra obstacles to publication) is 80,000 words long.

The editor or agent gets back to you with a list of about 15 things that could be developed a little more. S/he’s not seeing your protagonist’s reason for going to Trenton. Can you either cut Trenton entirely (never! Some of the most brilliant lines you’ve ever written are in that Trenton scene!) or else make it a lot clearer why we’re going to Trenton? Etc.

S/he may also suggest cutting (or “tightening”) a few things. (This, by the way, is where you are inevitably going to lose some of the most brilliant lines you’ve ever written. Keep ‘em in a separate file for possible reuse at a later date.)

The trick is to do all this revising and end up with a manuscript that’s still 80,000 words long.

What I’ve learned to do over the years is keep the word count posted at the top of the document. When I pull a scene out into a separate file to work on it, I do before-and-after word counts to make sure it’s remaining more or less the same size. If a scene gains 300 words in revision, then 300 words are going to need to be cut elsewhere.

This is where the game of how-briefly-can-I-say-this? comes in. If the editor feels that something needs to be added, how briefly can you add it? If s/he wants your hero to go from Princeton to Atlantic City and lose the family jewels at the roulette table, how few words can you make that happen in? If (as is more likely) s/he wants to see a little more of your hero’s feelings, what’s the least you can add to accomplish the most feeling-showing?

Tonight’s challenge is an exercise in brevity. If you didn’t do last week’s challenge, try this:
A Callow Youth is glued (I got squeamish) to the floor of the Tower of Doom, while the Evil Earl and the Dread Least Grebe argue about whether it would be more advisable to hold him/her for Ransom, or feed him/her to the transom alligators and make it look like an accident.

The Callow Youth’s stout companion, meanwhile, has gone to consult the brilliant, mysterious, and always-offstage Froop as to the location of the fabled Jewel of Togwogmagog. Returning to find the Callow Youth imprisoned in the tower, the stout companion must figure out  a way to get inside, perhaps by creating a distraction.

Show what happens next, in a maximum of 80 words.

If you did do last week’s challenge, try this:

Revise the scene you wrote last week, adding the arrival of the Callow Youth’s stout companion. The Callow Youth realizes ol’ Stout is outside the tower, trying to come to the rescue. Stout has returned from consulting the brilliant, mysterious, and always-offstage Froop as to the location of the fabled Jewel of Togwogmagog.

Make sure the word count of your revised scene is the same as the word count of your original scene. (Or within five words of the original word count.)

By the way, if you’re not sure how to do a word count: copy your scene from your dailykos comment and paste it into Word. Then click “Tools” and “Word count”, and Bob’s your uncle.
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