What I'm reading: An Echo in the Bone, by Diana Gabaldon
So, the landscaping is finished. We did lose one nice sago palm along with the native shrubs, but a potential buyer won't know it's gone. It was a case of not pointing it out to the contractor when he took stock of what to do with our yard, so the crew simply looked at the overall result, not the specific individual pieces.
Like our sago palm, there were valuable passages in my manuscript. However, at this point, I'm the only one who knows they were there. When I submit the finished piece for consideration, an editor won't know I cut a very well written scene simply because it didn't fit well enough with the overall storytelling to justify its being there.
And sometimes, it's a matter of replacing a plant that isn't doing well for a new one. When I write, I don't want to waste time finding the perfect descriptive words. In edits, there's time to go back and replace the words that aren't holding their own, or doing the best job they can. Why say, "he walked carefully across the floor" when he can creep or tiptoe or inch across the floor? Those "ly" adverbs usually wave red flags at words that need too much help. Yank them out and plant new ones.
With my manuscript. I'd done my major landscaping, getting my word count down to a more appropriate level by uprooting unneeded threads and scenes. "Chekov's Gun" states "any object introduced in a story must be used later on, else it ought not to feature in the first place."
In my manuscript, I had a perfect example. In a scene, one of the characters comes into the diner and tells my cop that she thinks someone's in her upstairs apartment. The cop tells her to get down behind the counter. There's mention of a pistol kept near the register. However, we never actually see the gun, other than a few thoughts about who it belongs to, and that almost everyone in the small Colorado town probably has one. Since the gun was never needed and never showed up again … SNIP.
If my character notices she's forgotten her cell phone charger, which IS a plot point, but isn't going to have time to plug her phone into it before the end of the book, then there's no need to spend time showing her actually fetching it. Enough to mention it in passing and move on.
And, like Chekov's gun, things on the page should be portents of things to come. If you haven't read Lee Child, you should. Anything he mentions will show up again, and more often than not, in a critical scene. I noticed the same kind of technique in the Roxanne St. Claire book I read recently. All the details are entwined. I'm still learning to pay attention to this in my own writing, and the second (or third) drafts are good places to make sure the details aren't pure window dressing.
Once the uprooting of established scenes is done, it's time to get out the pesky weeds that crop up no matter how you try to keep them away. Over the weekend, I went through the entire manuscript searching for my crutch words. Doesn't matter that I know what they are. They fall off the fingertips without any brain involvement.
Here's a peek at a few of my most intrusive weeds:
Almost: 30 (Note: when I was running the numbers between drafts 1 and 2, I noticed that "almost" went from 39 to 48. Why? Because in my culling of "just", "almost" crept in as a substitute. This happens a lot. Am I done? No. I'll go back and make sure each instance is absolutely necessary.)
You might have noticed I use an excess of qualifiers, like 'really' and 'very'. Most of the time leaving them out doesn't make any difference to the read. They insist on showing up the first time, but I get out the trowel and dig them up on the first editing pass. I use maybe, probably, and seemed a lot, primarily because I write deep POV, and one character cannot know what another is thinking. Again, I have to decide if these words start jumping off the page at the reader, or are logical parts of interior monologue. Or dialogue, which is another consideration. When we speak, we use 'filler words' to give our brain time to think. Most of the time, they're not needed on the page and merely slow the read.
Then there's the "appropriate to the character and situation" vocabulary. Hence my search for "sorry." My police chief would not use the word when he's giving orders to his officers, but he would use it when he arrives at a citizen's house at dawn to make sure everyone is all right.
Another weed to check: Dialogue tags. They should be used only as a way to keep the speaker clear. In a scene with only two people, it should be easy enough to tell who's talking without tagging every sentence. Since I'm a 'cut and paste' editor, I often move things around and mess up my tags, either eliminating critical ones, or leaving in more than I need. I've discussed this in much more depth in my "Dialogue Basics" handout, which is on my website under "Links".