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Cut It Down, Flesh It Out!
by Kathryn Lay
When an editor told me that I needed to expand
parts of my short story, but I also needed to cut 300 words from the length to
fit their word count, I felt frustrated, then worried that I could not do
I worked hard on following the editors advice
to cut my 900 word story down to 600, adding the details she suggested, and then
cutting it back again to the required 600 words. Not only was I amazed that I
could do it, I was thrilled with the results. The learning gained by following
the editors suggestions was as beneficial as the ultimate sale of
Cave-a-Phobia to Spider. Understanding the need to cut it down and
flesh it out has helped me in similar novel rewrite situations with my agent,
as well as nonfiction articles that held too much information and not enough
detail in needed areas.
CUT IT DOWN:
Look for unnecessary detail that doesnt move
the action along. Its not easy to get rid of words youve worked hard to put
into a piece, especially if that story or article is short to begin with. Often
you will find that there is detail that is redundant or not necessary to this
particular story or article. Are your sentences too long and wordy? Can you say
it just as well using shorter words? Read your writing aloud. Does it flow or do
you stumble in areas? Those stumbling blocks can usually be deleted. Perhaps you
can use extra nonfiction facts in another piece.
In my middle-grade humor novel, recently sold to
HOLIDAY HOUSE, King of Fifth Grade, my agent wisely pointed
out in various places that I had stated and restated a point several times. Was
I trying to convince myself in the believability of this idea or was I afraid
the reader needed it stated again and again? I found that I actually enjoyed
cutting those telling sentences and fleshing out the showing of my characters
intentions, motivations, and beliefs.
FLESH IT OUT:
In Cave-A-Phobia, my editor asked me to flesh
out the descriptions of the sights the boys see and the wonders of the cave. I
agreed that this would make the story more interesting and had to cut out some
of the clever dialogue I had included. Her insights were specific and helpful.
"What is sparkling above when everyone turns on
the flashlights? Whats the cave painting like? Arent cave crickets albino?
Could we have a brief description of them? And why is the rear such an important
position in cave exploration?"
These were a lot of questions to answer. Once
Id cut those extra 300 words from the piece, I needed to answer her questions,
then cut it back again. Surprisingly, I found that I was able to include this
information in one or two words or a short sentence.
In working with a larger piece, such as my
novel, I found that fleshing it out meant adding much more to the plot,
dialogue, action, and characterizations.Was my story problem clear? Was my main
characters motivations realistic and did he react to those around him or to
situations I had thrown him into? Did I need to internalize more in some areas
or include dialogue to pep up areas that had none? Were my scenes set up well
and did I draw them out, or rush in and out without milking the
In nonfiction Ive found that sometimes Ive
needed to flesh out an area by adding a sidebar. A fiction story that I sold to
Listen, concerning a bulimic girl, was expanded by including a sidebar on
recognizing friends with this problem as well as websites to explore the
issue.When working on expanding your short fiction or nonfiction, dont pad for
word counts sake. Make sure that each word you use is important to the
story.Otherwise, youll be whipping out that delete key and cutting once
Writing for kids means writing tight and taut,
without losing plot, character, scene, or story. Cut it down and flesh it out
is often heard now during my critique meetings. We may laugh about it, but we
all know that its serious business, creating the perfect story, article, or
book for a young reader.
A snip here. An additional word, phrase, or
Writing is rewriting.
Dont be afraid. It isnt as painful as it
seems, and the result is a good piece of writing.
© Copyright 2003, Kathryn Lay
Kathryn Lay is the author of 26 books for children, over 2000 articles, essays and stories for children and adults and the book from AWOC.COM Publishing, The Organized Writer is a Selling Writer. Check out her website at www.kathrynlay.com and email through firstname.lastname@example.org
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