Getting Fierce With Your Darlings

I make no secret of the fact that my manuscript has a huge word count to go with its epic plotline. The length of my first draft was just ridiculous. From subplots and characters to entire scenes, paragraphs and single words, I’ve learnt to cut out anything that doesn’t serve a very clear purpose…

To put it another way, I’ve become a serial killer of my darlings. Or perhaps mass murderer would be a better description. Whatever the case, my darlings now quiver in fright whenever I get near them.

When I started sending out my agent queries, my manuscript was as tight as I could get it. I’d been through that thing so many times, had advice from professionals and beta readers. The delete key became my best friend and I’d streamlined every damn thing I could find.

My darlings were not only dead, but buried in a mass grave out the back. I wiped the blood from my hands and did a word count.

It was still mega-long. Some stories just need a lot of words to tell them, I figured, so out into the world it went.

As expected, I received feedback from some agents that they loved my pitch but the word count is just too long.

Out of curiosity, I thought I’d take another look and see if there was anything I’d missed. I hadn’t read it for a while, there might be a few things, right? I didn’t set a target but I figured it’d be a couple of thousand words at best.

So I started taking out a word here and there, condensing some dialogue, reducing some descriptions, and soon I found whole scenes that could go. I put together this helpful outline of the process:


The thing about cutting is, the more you do it, the fiercer you get. You start out timidly, hurting every time you hit the delete key, but then you get stronger, and soon whole paragraphs disappear without you blinking an eyelid. You might even laugh maniacally (or is that just me?).

After the first read through, I went back to the beginning and started again, applying all my new-found fearlessness to the sections I’d begun so timidly.

I’m about three-quarters of the way through that second read-through, and my ms is more than 36,000 words lighter. Wow, right?! It’s getting harder to find things to cut but I’m hopeful I’ll make it to 40,000 words. *crosses fingers*

Have you had this problem? How do you approach cutting your ms? Would love to hear your experiences.  


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