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Cut, Cut, Cut But Not Always ... (1 Viewer)

TheMightyAz

Senior Member
One thing I've noticed whilst on courses or coming to writing forums, is the cart-blanch approach of those that critique. I do it too ... so don't get your knickers in a twist. Having seen it many times, I can say with certainty it's because people want critique, ask for critique and welcome critique.

The only problem is, when approaching it on forums, it's easy to overlook the fact you're usually dealing with an 'excerpt': A chapter, a scene, a section, even a paragraph. Most people know words to avoid, such as 'was', 'were', 'that', 'very', 'almost', 'nearly', etc. Of course beginners don't necessarily know this. In a short piece on a forum, it's easy to offer what IS valid critique by simply saying cut, cut, cut. It's valid in most cases but it can create a misconception in my opinion and often leads to writing getting worse, or losing its uniqueness.

The answer is to realise you're not meant to eliminate those words entirely, you are meant to reduce them as much as possible. You can legitimately use 'suddenly' or any of the words I've mentioned above. It's just that you want to reduce them. So, if you get that advice, don't pull your hair out trying to get rid of them all, cut them down and keep cutting them down, but DON'T think every single one of them needs to go.

In conclusion: Cut, cut, cut but not always ...
 
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Phil Istine

Staff member
Global Moderator
Yes, although cutting often makes a piece stronger, when it's only an excerpt (not exert) context can be difficult to gauge because the critic can be out of step with the story's pacing at that point. If it's a fairly rushed point in the story, minimising word count is probably valid, but if the writer is slowing things down, a little description or mild wordiness may be appropriate. Usually, I seek fewer, stronger words, but I like to write micro-poetry where that is normal.
 

vranger

Staff member
Supervisor
I read a MS that someone had had edited, where every instance of "was" and "the" had been shredded out. It was unreadable.

Yeah, copulas and filler words are cautionary. We want to examine them for better alternatives, but not use draconian editing on them.

It's possible to eliminate all/most "to be" verbs, but it's W-O-R-K. I decided on a late chapter in my first novel to write for a while without them. Sometimes crafting sentences where a copula was "natural" didn't take much thought, but it often took a lot--to eliminate it and still have a natural sounding sentence. I went on for about a half chapter, and the section really pops. But it was taxing.

Now I simply pay attention each time I've just typed one. I've been doing it long enough now that I can often eliminate it on the spot. Very often I can directly replace "was" or "is" with a better verb. If it's too much of a twist on the sentence, though, I scan to see if I've got too many clustered. If I don't, I can leave it. If I see a cluster (a "copula spider"), I go to work and do a better job.

Often (now) I catch it as I write, and sometimes it's in my first round of revision--one of a list of several technical things I pay attention to at either step.

You probably can't just drop too many "the's", but in my experience you can simply drop "that" in plenty of cases. The more I correct these things in revision, the better I get at not writing them in the first place. Since I regard editing as "work" and writing as "fun" (most of the time), I do myself a big favor if I can cut down on the amount of editing the manuscript will require. :)
 
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thepancreas11

New Writers' Mentor
WF Veterans
If you want to know what doesn't work, read your writing out loud. Writing has a tendency to make us think that we need to reinvent the sentence. I think that's where a lot of extraneous words find their way into a manuscript. I don't think writing has to follow speech, necessarily, but there is something to be said about writing in a believable voice. This is how I identify awkward phrases, confusing sentences, and boring parts of my work. We say versions of "to be" in conversation all the time. We say "that" in conversation all the time. It's important to know when and how we do that, and to let your narration do the same.
 

vranger

Staff member
Supervisor
If you want to know what doesn't work, read your writing out loud. Writing has a tendency to make us think that we need to reinvent the sentence. I think that's where a lot of extraneous words find their way into a manuscript. I don't think writing has to follow speech, necessarily, but there is something to be said about writing in a believable voice. This is how I identify awkward phrases, confusing sentences, and boring parts of my work. We say versions of "to be" in conversation all the time. We say "that" in conversation all the time. It's important to know when and how we do that, and to let your narration do the same.

I'm going to agree and disagree here. Yes, we want our writing to SOUND natural. The "disagree" is that it can't BE natural. I don't want to read your conversations, and you don't want to read mine. That's the tricky part. We need to be crisp without being clipped. We need to be descriptive without being purple. We need to be urbane without being nerdy. Getting that stuff right is what elevates effective authors.
 

Foxee

Patron
Patron
I don't think writing has to follow speech, necessarily, but there is something to be said about writing in a believable voice. This is how I identify awkward phrases, confusing sentences, and boring parts of my work.
This. I'm not happy with my writing until I can believe it flows in a natural way...even if I've had to cut, slice, splice, and reword. In fact, that's MORE important after I've edited in that way to make sure that it's survived editing. Doesn't help me to make this great sentence with a metaphor and structure just to find out that it's a stumble in the narrative or sounds like a herd of coat hangers forcing itself off the tongue.
 

TheMightyAz

Senior Member
Yeah, copulas and filler words are cautionary. We want to examine them for better alternatives, but not use draconian editing on them.

It's possible to eliminate all/most "to be" verbs, but it's W-O-R-K. I decided on a late chapter in my first novel to write for a while without them. Sometimes crafting sentences where a copula was "natural" didn't take much thought, but it often took a lot--to eliminate it and still have a natural sounding sentence. I went on for about a half chapter, and the section really pops. But it was taxing.

Now I simply pay attention each time I've just typed one. I've been doing it long enough now that I can often eliminate it on the spot. Very often I can directly replace "was" or "is" with a better verb. If it's too much of a twist on the sentence, though, I scan to see if I've got too many clustered. If I don't, I can leave it. If I see a cluster (a "copula spider"), I go to work and do a better job.

Often (now) I catch it as I write, and sometimes it's in my first round of revision--one of a list of several technical things I pay attention to at either step.

You probably can't just drop too many "the's", but in my experience you can simply drop "that" in plenty of cases. The more I correct these things in revision, the better I get at not writing them in the first place. Since I regard editing as "work" and writing as "fun" (most of the time), I do myself a big favor if I can cut down on the amount of editing the manuscript will require. :)

I'm completely the reverse. I find writing painful but LOVE the editing process. :)
 

TheMightyAz

Senior Member
I'm going to agree and disagree here. Yes, we want our writing to SOUND natural. The "disagree" is that it can't BE natural. I don't want to read your conversations, and you don't want to read mine. That's the tricky part. We need to be crisp without being clipped. We need to be descriptive without being purple. We need to be urbane without being nerdy. Getting that stuff right is what elevates effective authors.

The battle I'm constantly fighting. For me, that is the heart of good writing.
 

vranger

Staff member
Supervisor
The battle I'm constantly fighting. For me, that is the heart of good writing.

For all of us. Every writer is on that journey, just at different waypoints as we progress. And the damnable thing is it's hard to evaluate ourselves and know if we're hitting the sweet spots. So we have to pay attention to what readers say, plus find critique we trust, bite our tongues, and believe at least SOME of it. LOL With more experience, we get a better and better feel for it, but I know for sure I'm not sold on what I've written until I start to get some feedback on it. I DO know that I'm a much better editor of my work than I was several years ago, and I'm happy about that.

I keep remembering my favorite stupid prepositional phrase in my last manuscript. "He approached the door of the building". That completely useless "of the building" is going to be the example I will use from now until my deathbed to keep my ego in check. LOL
 

TheMightyAz

Senior Member
For all of us. Every writer is on that journey, just at different waypoints as we progress. And the damnable thing is it's hard to evaluate ourselves and know if we're hitting the sweet spots. So we have to pay attention to what readers say, plus find critique we trust, bite our tongues, and believe at least SOME of it. LOL With more experience, we get a better and better feel for it, but I know for sure I'm not sold on what I've written until I start to get some feedback on it. I DO know that I'm a much better editor of my work than I was several years ago, and I'm happy about that.

I keep remembering my favorite stupid prepositional phrase in my last manuscript. "He approached the door of the building". That completely useless "of the building" is going to be the example I will use from now until my deathbed to keep my ego in check. LOL

I'm not sure 'every' writer IS on that journey. That's the main danger of the 'cut, cut, cut' mentality. Without an understanding of personal goals, and recognition of potential flaws, beginners (and even some advanced writers) simply take the advice without considering there own style and objectives. You have a clear understanding of the end goal, as do I, but without a clear understanding of that end goal, cutting becomes a style destroying obsession.
 

Matchu

Senior Member
Get yourself down to the other end of the telescope.

For there is no justification for the dull & the flabby prose rambled all around the houses with the flourishes, of course, cornice and so and a finally ending is just a not very interesting experience for a human being in the cause of some pot-bellied style. Metaphorical. Your belly is very beautiful.

Hell’s teeth, pok eyes with a stick [continued] it is self-indulgence and it is incredibly difficult/and is arduous for a reader-victim to persevere in reading the classic ‘poorly written story.’ That is WHY there are reading groups, tutors and also websites to share the burden.

okay. Tap tap on the tiny screen, see if I sound very wise. Press done, post quick reply, done it
 

TheMightyAz

Senior Member
Get yourself down to the other end of the telescope.

For there is no justification for the dull & the flabby prose rambled all around the houses with the flourishes, of course, cornice and so and a finally ending is just a not very interesting experience for a human being in the cause of some pot-bellied style. Metaphorical. Your belly is very beautiful.

Hell’s teeth, pok eyes with a stick [continued] it is self-indulgence and it is incredibly difficult/and is arduous for a reader-victim to persevere in reading the classic ‘poorly written story.’ That is WHY there are reading groups, tutors and also websites to share the burden.

okay. Tap tap on the tiny screen, see if I sound very wise. Press done, post quick reply, done it

You can spend years weeding your garden and it's only when you allow the weeds to flourish, do you suddenly realise they're often just as beautiful as the well kept flowers. You've just got to know which weeds to leave and which weeds to remove. If you simply cut them, you'll never find out.
 

Matchu

Senior Member
That is very lovely. I might say ‘absolutely no weeds in my garden’ for I am providing the illusion of weeds having spent thousands at the garden centre metaphor.

...the ambition is to appear absolutely effortless & natural whilst I do sadly, tragic fellow, attempt to think about the bounce of every word & corner... ...for the pleasure of the reader. But that’s me. Your writing’s cool - asides from craft/draft/laff which upsets me x a lot.
 

TheMightyAz

Senior Member
That is very lovely. I might say ‘absolutely no weeds in my garden’ for I am providing the illusion of weeds having spent thousands at the garden centre metaphor.

...the ambition is to appear absolutely effortless & natural whilst I do sadly, tragic fellow, attempt to think about the bounce of every word & corner... ...for the pleasure of the reader. But that’s me. Your writing’s cool - asides from craft/draft/laff which upsets me x a lot.

This thread is actually titled 'cut, cut, cut but not always'. In other words, cutting is good advice but there are times when cutting can be detrimental. If you cut too much, it becomes noticeable that's all you are doing. Yeah, it might look 'enigmatic' at first glance, but scrutiny reveals something else.
 

Matchu

Senior Member
Well...you said (AZ quote ‘21) how you are writing only practice writes and have no intentions of developing any of the writes until you have found your voice in the garden and then you will be ready to begin the ‘journey’ [thanku @ Vranger]....so...so...so so so you’re throwing all of your writing into the skip regardless of thread title.
 

Matchu

Senior Member
Well...you said (AZ quote ‘21) how you are writing only practice writes and have no intentions of developing any of the writes until you have found your voice in the garden and then you will be ready to begin the ‘journey’ [thanku @ Vranger]....so...so...so so so you’re throwing all of your writing into the skip regardless of thread title.
 

Matchu

Senior Member
Fgs..I’m a moron. [double double]

Tho’ the ‘enigmatic’ sounds a bit like the ‘usual’ - the ‘I’ll have some of what he’s on drugs/ the emperor’s new clothes, I tell you it’s all the emperor’s new clothes’ garbage of the...enemy.
 

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