Cutting ’til it Bleeds

The red pen slices deep into the flesh of the story,
wasted ink spilling across the page.

image (14)I just finished a story and reached for my red pen and these are the words that went through my mind. This is how I see editing.

It’s murderous torture to my words. When it’s time to clean up my work, I try to spare nothing with the cutting. Noose up each unnecessary syntax and choke the life out of it. Slice away the wasted fat of word count, bringing out the bare structure of a piece. As it is, I think I don’t cut nearly enough.

I finished The Braid and cut from nearly 5,000 to just under 4K. Pointless conversation, description and plot all got axed. Does the story travel forward on the knowledge that his shorts were made of black nylon blend? No?—then slice. Some description is important to bring a reader in, but many, many stories I read are full of fluff meant to pad word and page count. That will never fly.

This is the question we need to ask as authors and writers with every story. Do we want to strut and boast that we just put out a 50,000 word novel that no one reads or do we want to create the written word that haunts generations because of content. I hope to one day achieve the latter. For now, I continue to try sculpt stories hidden inside the block of paper pulp at my desk—chipping away, honing and slicing until, hopefully, something powerful emerges.

As for The Braid, it’s been rewritten and edited twice and then sent to a special beta reader who is reviewing it now (and chopping it up even more, to the story’s benefit). After it returns I’ll rewrite based on suggestions he gives me and then edit again. Then, depending on where I want to see it, it will probably go through two more editors. Then I can publish it somewhere as the best I can make it.

And, when I read it over again, I bet I will find something I’d like to change.

About Angela Yuriko Smith

Angela Yuriko Smith is an American poet, author, and publisher with over 20 years of experience in newspaper journalism. She is a Bram Stoker Awards® Finalist and HWA Mentor of the Year for 2020. She co-publishes Space and Time, a publication dedicated to fantasy, horror and science fiction since 1966. Join the community at
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