Trimming the flab – how low can you go?

Posted: March 9, 2012 in Darklands, Editing, Kikimora, Marketing & Promotion, Writing
Tags: , , , , ,

I’ve been invited to take part in a radio interview next week in which they would like me to read a short extract from Darklands. Naturally I’m delighted, and immediately set about practising my delivery.

First of all, I’m astonished how long it takes to read out loud. The brief is ‘no more than ten minutes.’ How many chapters would I fit into that, I wondered. The answer is one short one. Just the prologue took ten minutes for me to read out loud. I was surprised, but not put out. The prologue is a good taster that sets up the initial mystery. I would happily read just that.

Then I was asked if the reading could be split into two parts – because of the interview they might feature me across consecutive weeks. Even better! But, hmm, tricky… I don’t think the prologue would split into two very successfully, so I tried to find a couple of shorter passages that would each take five minutes to read.

I liked this idea because I’d get to read an extract from my work in progress, Kikimora. I knew just the piece as well. There are several short stories within the story. A good stand alone one is, Innessa and the Terrible Witch, a not-very-sweet fairy tale.

But I couldn’t find a suitably short piece in Darklands. So I thought, could I just give the prologue a really ruthless edit? The style of the prologue is intended to be lush and dreamlike. It chronicles a lazy, spring afternoon amongst birch trees and hawthorne blossom – and the incongruously terrible thing that happens in that serene setting. Consequently it has rather more descriptive passages than the rest of the book. What if I stripped it down to its bare bones? The original prologue is 1700 words. Could I get it down to 1000?

I’ve gone through it three or four times, pruning and occasionally hacking. I’ve lost plenty of adjectives, and don’t miss them. I’ve speeded up a couple of dawdly passages, and I’ve cut a couple of repeating motifs. I’m down to 1200 words, and I don’t think I can take it any lower without losing the essence of it. It takes six minutes to read. I think that’ll do.

You can read the resulting edit here. What do you think? As good as the original? Worse? Better?

It’s sobering to realise how much can be cut without impairing the reading experience. I have been meaning for some time to go through and do another cut of Darklands. It’s getting on for a couple of years since I last did any substantial editing of it (though only six months since I published as an eBook). People keep asking me about a paperback version, and I keep saying, ‘soon…’ Part of the hold up was my intention to do another big edit first. And part of my reluctance to publish a paperback is the prohibitively high cost of printing.

This week’s editing experience has encouraged me on two fronts. Firstly, I think there is merit in another edit; that the story could be honed and slimmed a little without losing any of the mood and tone. And secondly, the more words I can cut the cheaper my paperback will be. Excellent.

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