Cutting the Fat in Your Manuscript

To tighten your manuscript, do what I call a Scissor Edit. Cut out everything that doesn’t absolutely need to be in the manuscript. The tighter the writing, the more publishers—and readers—will like it. Here are a few ways to cut. Look for more next week!


Change multi-word phrases to single words. For example:

     at this point in time (now)

     due to the fact that (because)

     have an expectation (expect)

     in the near future (soon)

     it is clear that (clearly)

     make an arrangement (arrange)

     with regard to (about)

     made the decision (decided)

     in spite of the fact that (although)

     has a tendency (tends)

     poured down rain outside (rained)

Change multi-word verb phrases to single descriptive verbs.

Avoid overuse of adverbs, especially –ly words (like especially). Search your manuscript for words ending in “-ly.” You’ll probably find a lot of them, most of which can be deleted. Examples: basically, definitely, exactly, highly, really, simply, truly, utterly

A good, strong verb is always preferred over a weak verb with an adjective. Replace verb phrases with single action verbs wherever possible. For example, what single verb could you use to replace “walked slowly”? (stalked, straggled, ambled, strolled, wandered, lumbered, padded, plodded, trudged) How about “walked quickly”? (barreled, bustled, darted, hurried, jogged, raced, ran, scurried, sprinted) Each word carries a slightly different connotation.

Cut out “action delays.”

  1. Rather than say someone “began to” do something, just show them doing it.
  2. Instead of telling the possible (“He could sense that nobody believed him”), show the actual (“He sensed nobody believed him”).
  3. Instead of “He decided to go,” just write “He went” . . . unless he decided to go and then didn’t.