How To Lower Your Word Count

RamonaGravitarToday’s How To post is short and sweet, intended to shorten a manuscript and sweeten it for publication.

Writing economically makes a story more engaging and readable. These tips are not about massive revision or changing scenes. They explain ways to trim the unnecessary from what’s already written.

  1. Write in the active voice rather than the passive voice.  “Was” phrases and gerunds (-ing words) add one word with each use.

He was standing becomes He  stood.

She was beating the dog becomes She beat the dog.

~ He was thinking about becomes He thought.

  1. Remove words that don’t add value to the story.

~  Superfluous words like really, just, even, sort of, kind of, basically, actually, that, very add to word count, but little to content.

  1. Remove sentences that must be explained.

~ Something was wrong – Instead of making this announcement, tell what’s wrong.

~ She could see something was out of place – We don’t need this preamble, which is also telling. Show us what’s out of place.

  1. Search out meaningless gestures. Characters who look around, breathe deeply, or close their eyes over and over in a manuscript may seem busy, but they also may be performed busywork. Is every action necessary, interesting and adds to the story? Will the moment be significantly changed without it? If no, cut it out.

~ Everyone sleeps, gets dressed in the morning, and goes to the bathroom, but that doesn’t mean I want to read about it. – One of my favorite writing axioms.

  1. Search and destroy adverbs. If it ends in -ly, it should have an excellent reason for being in the sentence. If the sentence can survive without it, cut it.

~ Said loudly can be shouted; walked quickly can be jogged; spoke softly can be whispered; put down angrily can be slammed

5 – Trim dialogue tags. “He said” and “She said” are necessary to identify speakers, but attributes are not needed after every spoken line. Dialogue tags can be staggered, or an action which identifies the speaker can replace it–but only if the action tells something of its own.

~ “Lies, all you tell me are lies,” John said. He slapped his hand on the table in frustration.


~“Lies, all you tell me are lies.” John slapped his hand on the table in frustration.

Chipping away at a manuscript can be tedious, but if a lower word count is your goal, one word is better than two. Clean, tight writing is more enjoyable to read, and easier to sell.

Do you have habit words you often cut?


9 thoughts on “How To Lower Your Word Count

  1. Hi, Ramona —

    Thanks for this wonderful series. I read it every day. The question of lowering the word count is a good one. However, I have the opposite problem–needing to get my word count up. Any suggestions?



    1. Grace, that is difficult. You don’t want to add unnecessary verbiage to up the word count, nor do you want to include extra scenes that aren’t needed. Is there a secondary storyline that would shore up the plot?


  2. Reblogged this on Abominations and commented:
    Eventually I’m going to stop blogging and just re-post Ramona DeFelice Long’s advice on writing. That’s how good I think it is!


  3. That first recommendation is an excellent one (and a theme of Douglas Glover’s recent book, Attack of the Copula Spiders). I was having … I mean, I had that affliction for a long time.


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