The setting: Overworked and Underpaid Editor sits in her office, sucking down one of the beagle’s fresh margaritas. She stirs the frothy drink with the end of her evil red pen. Laying on a couch across from her is an overwrought manuscript, bulging and bloated. Loud sniffles and cries of angst fill the small office. OwUp Editor orders the beagle to make three pitchers and have them waiting in the wings; it was going to be a long, painful session.
Bloated Manuscript: Another rejection! I’ve lost track of how many that makes [loudly blowing its little nose]. What is wrong with me? Do I suck?
Overworked and Underpaid Editor: It’s hard to tell if you suck because you, my portly little friend, are overweight. Just how much do you weigh?
Bloated Manuscript: [recoiling in disgust] That’s none of your beeswax! Didn’t your mother ever tell you it’s rude to ask how much something weighs?
Overworked and Underpaid Editor: Ach, my mother told me lots of things. One was to always wear clean Victoria Secrets in case I was in an accident. I mean really. If I’m bleeding in fifty different places and have an emergency brake sticking out of my eye socket, does anyone believe the emergency room is going to stop and admire my lacy underlilies? But I digress. [uncorking evil red pen and donning designer spectacles] Ah, I can see on your title page that you weigh 196,000 words. You, my little pork chop, need to go on a diet.
Bloated Manuscript: Gah! No! The only way I can lose weight is to rip out pages. If I rip out pages, that means only one thing; I HAVE TO CUT MY BABIES! NOOOOOO! I love my words, every single one of them. There isn’t a single verb, noun, or dangling participle that can be removed, let alone full chapters.
Overworked and Underpaid Editor: Just because those words are sitting on your pages doesn’t mean they belong there. I can’t believe that it took you 196,000 words to belt out your story, when I think you could say it better in 84,000 words. And more to the point, I’m suspicious you’ve gorged yourself on Twinkie Fluff – that lovely, sweet dessert that fills up a page faster than I can drink one of the beagle’s chocolate martinis. Twinkie Fluff are empty calories; they may taste great, but if you overload yourself with them, your pretty pages become bloated codfishies that scare the bejabbers out of editors. In fact, if I see a word count that high, I won’t even bother reading it.
Bloated Manuscript: But why?? [wailing miserably] Just because we’ve put on a little weight doesn’t mean we aren’t lovable, readable manuscripts.
Overworked and Underpaid Editor: Yah, that may be true, but I have to work too hard to find it. A manuscript that is as overweight as you are make me wonder if you are a new kid on the block and not experienced enough to know how to write a story with the proper balance of brevity, plot, and development.
Bloated Manuscript: Wahhhh, I don’t even know where to begin.
Overworked and Underpaid Editor: Knowing when and what to cut takes writing experience. After you’ve been around the block a few times, you’ll learn what is integral to the plot and what is wasted space; what backstory is essential and engaging, and what goes.
Organization is key to any new manuscript – experienced or not. You should have a clear vision of your characters and how they move your story along. Your characters are going through some sort of conflict or dilemma – be it finding out who murdered their favorite dust bunnies or chucking the rat race behind and moving to the Bermuda Triangle to open up a factory that manufactures chocolate-covered mosquitoes.
From there, you need to organize your thoughts on how to propel the plot. You need to be mindful that every word, every sentence, every paragraph needs to have a reason for being on the page. They have one duty; to propel your plot. Now, of course, a little backstory helps round out the character development, as does a wee bit of Twinkie Fluff.
Having a chapter outline can be helpful in keeping fat manuscripts on their diet plan. You always have to ask yourself what is it you want/need to say in each chapter. [Overworked and Underpaid Editor flips through the pages] Now see here, this entire chapter has zippo to do with your plot, so why is it here?
Bloated Manuscript: Because it’s so well written!
Overworked and Underpaid Editor: But it doesn’t have anything to do with the story. It’s all backstory that doesn’t impart anything relevant to the character’s current dilemma. If you are so in love with that backstory, then think about writing that book. But really, it has no place in this book.
Bloated Manuscript: Are-are you saying I should stick myself in a drawer and start all over again with something new?
Overworked and Underpaid Editor: I’m suggesting regular visits to the literary gym, where you will work out every day to get lean and mean. It may be that you are so overweight that you require some time in the isolation unit while you learn the technique of proper weight reduction. And yes, you should consider that you need to start over with something new. Regardless of where you’re headed, get yourself some good literary coaches. Eat healthy verbs and nouns, and ease up on the adverbs, backstory, and exclamation points – they’re empty calories. Losing weight doesn’t happen overnight, so be patient.
Bloated Manuscript: [sighing heavily] Ok, I’ll try. Now, can we talk about my red-pen phobia?
Overworked and Underpaid Editor: Oh good grief. Beagle, another round of margaritas. This is going to take longer than I thought.