15 January 2010

Cut the Fat

Hey, Friends! This week we've been talking about things I've learned from P90x. Pray for me--today is Yoga X!

So, there are some things Tony does to annoy me. Some of his jokes really aren't funny. He calls the people behind him "kids". But I like how he tells me it's okay if I can't do everything they do. He says, "Do your best and forget the rest". I can do that, because the people behind him must be superhuman. For the most part I appreciate his job teaching me and talking me through the workout.

There is one thing that trips me up every video. He says the name of each move, which is great. But sometimes those names are massive. We're talking 5+ words. It just sounds difficult because it takes so long to say. So when he says the name of a move, I'm left trying to decipher the meaning of the words he just said and miss the beginning of the exercise. You know why? Too many words.

We can overdo this. I had a teacher in college so intent on cutting my essays that they bored me--even if they were on interesting topics. She cut so many words that only meat was left, no "potatoes". Have you ever tried to eat a meal of pure meat? You need the other stuff. But it's like Brad Pitt's character tells Matt Damon's in Ocean's Eleven: "Don't say eight words when four will do". (Or something like that--is it six? Anywho, you get the point).

I struggle with being wordy. I was reminded of that again when I edited my novel last fall. And I seem to like compound words. We use word pictures in the South and I find them randomly slipping into my speech. For instance, I have a friend who says "church house" and "boss lady". There are places where it works great. But there are others where we need to cut the fat. If we choose the right word, we won't need the phrase. The word itself will pack such a punch that it'll be more than enough. It won't need qualifiers or description. Passive verbs are a huge waste of words. So are complex verb phrases (where it takes more than one or two words to complete the action). Linking "to be" verbs add bulk too. Adverbs (NO! Not adverbs!) mean a verb needs a qualifier.

Don't cut all the potatoes (oh, I love potatoes!). Don't be like that professor with her meaty essays. We want a delicious story, one we can savor with every page. Just lose the unnecessary ones. Make your words speak for themselves--and leave the rest of us captivated. It's not that less is more--it's that better is more.

How do you "cut the fat" in your novels?

See y'all Monday!


  1. Nice analogy here! I agree. I've read some books that were so bareboned, they definitely needed potatoes.
    Good luck with your exercise today!

  2. I have a HUGE problem with this... I am always extra wordy.

    The first step to solving a problem is to recognize it, right? I go back through in the editing phase and cut a lot of words... but it still seems like my crit partners find more! Blah!

  3. Enjoy that yoga! Writing tight is something I am constantly thinking about. kills the darlings. Kill the darlings... :)

  4. This is SUCH a great post, because it's so true. We do need to leave in some potatoes. We can't cut it all. Sometimes, while I revise, I cut TOO much, then read the story and it just falls flat. Like you said, nothing to savor. Great reminder, Kristen.

  5. "Just lose the unnecessary ones. Make your words speak for themselves--and leave the rest of us captivated. It's not that less is more--it's that better is more." That's a quotable!

    Sentence variation can help too.
    ~ Wendy

  6. I usually have the opposite problem. My first drafts are anorexic and anemic. In revisions, I have to build and expand my story. Not sure which is worse?

  7. I'm a very lean writer in my early drafts, so I'm usually trying to beef them up when I edit. LOL

  8. Have a great day Kristen. Thanks so much for visiting and leaving your thoughtful comments, they mean so much to me! Warm hugs and best wishes for a great weekend!

  9. This was a really great analogy (and that picture made me hungry - LOL). I'm also wordy and I like adverbs way too much - a big no no that I can't seem to shake off. Cutting the fat is what I do in the revision stage! Have a great weekend!

  10. Thanks, Jessica! I'm ready to kick yoga's butt! Ha!

    Yes, Krista! Me too. I just say over and over: "Hi, I'm Kristen, and I'm wordy".

    So sad, Tabitha. So sad!

    Thanks, Katie! It's definitely a balance! I rejoice over all the "potatoes" I get to leave in!

    Thanks, Wendy! It definitely can!

    Elle--it's great to meet you! Thanks for coming over! You're my 100th follower, so thank you!!! Wow, I'd envy you but I see how it could be a problem. Hmm...

    Ha! Good for you, Jennifer!

    Thanks, Roxy! And you're welcome!

    Thanks, Julie! Me too. That picture looks gooooood!

  11. Now I'm starving! Meat and potatoes, who can eat one without the other?!

    I've noticed I can be wordy at times too, I'm learning to write strong and pick my words carefully. Once the edit phase starts there are bound to be too many potatoes on my plate.

  12. An agent suggested to me I cut about twenty pages from my beginning. I moaned about this. Then I realized I have an almost 100K word count and sure I could lose a few words. That picture actually made me hungry.

  13. Oh, dude. I feel you on this. My novels are always bloated with too many words. I had to cut 10% of my novel before I signed with my agent. That's a lot of words.

    So I looked at it. Had other people look at it. Axed whole scenes, but for me, that's only about 500 - 1000 words. I needed to do more.

    Someone once told me that I tend to say things in threes. So I went through my MS, and she was right! So I cut a sentence here and there, so I only did things twice. And that got my word count down.

    I'm revising a new book now, and I'm seeing the same things. One can only hope and pray that I'll be able to cut what needs to be cut this time.

    Great post!

  14. Good reminder here. It's good to trim but don't cut all the juicy stuff out.

  15. Great analogy, Kristen! You're making me hungry! "...a delicious story," love it! Thanks for the reminder that more is not always better! Have a great weekend! :)

  16. Great analogy. Considering my ms went from 110,000 words to 85,000, I'd say I've cut a lot of fat. I agree with you, though. We shouldn't cut it all.

  17. Hi Kristen -

    I recently cut an article to meet the word count of a publication. Hitting that delete key - painful.

    Susan :)

  18. Sigh. I'm doing it NOW--under publisher order!!!!

    Look for all the unnecessary adv. and adj (been there, haven't you?) Cut out the she thought she hoped and just have her DO IT!!
    Play a little game of trying to cut a page from each chapter. It's FUN!! And will rid your novel of loads of fat!!

    Have a great weekend!!

    P.S. What again is the link to your missions blog??

  19. I have the opposite problem of writing too lean and am learning to add in some veggies and a good dessert too! Good post here! First time I've seen this issue addressed this way.

  20. I used to be horrible at descriptions so I worked really hard at them. After going through my last revision I realized there were areas that meant nothing to the plot where I had a page of description. I hate reading that so why did I write it. I quickly pushed the delete key.

  21. To trim my writing I look for excess adverbs, adjectives, and ways to say stuff more efficiently. My courses from ICL taught me a lot about that.

    My fave line from Ocean's Eleven (I think it's the right one) is near the end where Clooney says to Pitt, "Ted Nugent called. He wants his shirt back."

    Just thought I'd share that in case you were wondering...:)


  22. I still love potatoes... am just learning to savor them, Tamika! But you're right--it's not as hard if you try to cut back before the rewrites even come!

    Ha! Me too, T.Anne! Yeah, last fall I cut 12k from my novel. It made me sad but it was worth it. So much better now!

    I do that too, Elana! I think I'm being dramatic and it turns out I'm just repetitive. Not the same thing! :0)

    Yebo, Katie!

    Thank you, Maria! You too!

  23. Yes you have, Susan Mills! Congrats on all the hard work!

    It definitely is, Susan R! Not my favorite activity when it comes to writing.

    Ha, Patti Lacy! Well, since it's a game, that is fun! Oh, it's kristentorrestoro.myadventures.org

    Thanks, Terri! I hope it helps even with the "opposite" problem!

    Sounds like you're good and literary triage, Patti! Good for you!

    That is a great line, Karen! That movie had me laughing when it first came out. I love it when stars poke fun at each other. :0)

  24. Excellnt post! I loved the photo, but it made me hungry!

    I try to cut fat by using strong nouns and verbs, but it's hard. I pray a lot, and use Rodale's word finder, one of my favorite books.

  25. Wordy, wordy, yes! I'm a word nerd, too. My husband rolls his eyes, but I do try to condense stuff. I love that Matt Damon quote!

  26. Nice analogy. I struggle constantly with an abundance of words. I love words - the more the better. Learning to communicate with my husband, who as a man has less of a love of words, has helped me get to the point more succinctly.

  27. That does help a lot, Deb! I find when talking with people who aren't as wordy I'm better able to communicate with strong phrases instead of bulky ones.

    Ha, Janna!

    Thanks, Jeannette! I'll have to check that out!

  28. We just had to cut a whopping 20,000 words from our book! I like to blame Lisa for the wordiness (she is the chatty Kathy of the two of us), but really, I think it's me! She is SO much better at cutting off the fat than I am. She basically trims and combines scenes together. Me? Not so much. I have a hard time saying goodbye to all those pretty words.

  29. My book is way too long. It is a 120,000 words. I know I'll have to cut something, and, at this point, I'd cut almost anything. I think that is a good place to be as a writer. It is not about us; it is about the readers, and readers usually don't want fat!

  30. I love your analogies and how you put stuff. 'trim the fat.' hmmmm. At my writers group this week they talked about making the story tight..same deal...great post Kristen as always. I do feel like your posts are a mini writing course.

  31. Wow, that's a lot! I bet it hurt too, Lila! But good for you!

    You're so right, Alisa! It is about the reader!

    Thank you, Sarah!

  32. Its amazing how almost anything in life can be compared to writing. Amazing. Maybe because life is like a story, or maybe because writers think non stop about writing they can't help but have it overlap with our daily activities - even exercise videos. :)

  33. I'm reading a great book on writing, and he says to construct sentences this way:

    1. Open the sentence with its point in a short main clause stating the key claim you want the sentence to make.
    2. Get quickly to the subject, then to the verb and its object.
    3. After the main clause, avoid adding one subordinate clause to another to another another...
    4. End your sentence with the appropriate emphasis.

    Easier said than done, Mr. Williams. lol

    I'm wordy too. It's a curse.

  34. But I like the fat. The fat gives it flavor :) What about broccoli? Can I cut out the broccoli? Or the turnips. Yeah. That's it. I'm on the hunt for turnip words!

    (sorry. caffiene just kicked in...)