Transforming a Paragraph

EditingAs many know, I’m editing the second book in the Castle Keepers series Scattered Stones. When I began, the fantasy novel contained 161,435 words. It currently sits at 160,522 words. My goal is to reduce the novel to below 150,000.

To reach this goal, unnecessary words need to go. To do this, I evaluate each sentence. This is a long process, and after 13 days, I’ve completed only 63 of 271 pages. Mind you, I only get to work on these edits about two hours a day.

This morning, as I worked on a paragraph, I got lazy—blame it on the late nights and early mornings. I let a few ‘was’ words slide without putting in effort to see if I could eliminate them. Not all ‘was’ words should be removed; there is a place for them, but laziness isn’t that place.

So I forced myself to rewrite a paragraph that contained two ‘was’ words and its mate ‘were’. Below is the process I went through—I do this when I encounter a few ‘was’ words or when I feel a few sentences need major changes within a paragraph.

Scattered Stones NamesIn the steps below, the first is the paragraph I had originally written. It is for the main character Bronwyn Darrow. The scene takes place immediately after a deadly attack on The Trail. Before the battle came upon them, he and Alaura of Niamh were doing ‘other things’, including being thrown in a cold mountain lake.

The two sentences being revised are underlined.

Original Paragraph

“She does. Maybe herb harvesting and preparation are family traditions.” Bronwyn fastened the top three buttons on Alaura’s trousers. A short time ago, his thoughts were fixed on getting her out of her clothing; now his only desire was to keep her safe from the unknown forces threatening to take her away. He considered changing her wet clothes, but it was vital they get away from the area as quickly as possible.

The Dissected Paragraph

I use different colour font to make the two new sentences I’m working on stand out. I keep the original sentences to ensure I don’t forget what needs to be said. This version is not intended to be good writing. I’m looking for the basic sentence structure without ‘was’ that I can build on in the next stage.

“She does. Maybe herb harvesting and preparation are family traditions.” Bronwyn fastened the top three buttons on Alaura’s trousers. A short time ago, his thoughts were fixed on getting her out of her clothing; now his only desire was to keep her safe from the unknown forces threatening to take her away. He considered changing her wet clothes, but it was vital they get away from the area as quickly as possible.

A short time ago, his consuming thoughts fixated on getting her out of her clothing; now keeping her safe from unknown forces threatening to take her away drove his desires. He considered changing her wet clothes, but knew it to be vital they get away from the area as quickly as possible.Scattered Stones 08

Almost There Paragraph

“She does. Maybe herb harvesting and preparation are family traditions.” Bronwyn fastened the top three buttons on Alaura’s trousers. A short time ago, his thoughts raced wildly, thinking only about getting her out of her clothing; now his thoughts dwelt on keeping her safe from unknown forces threatening to take her away. He considered changing her wet clothes, but delaying their departure from the attack area could bring more danger.

Completed Paragraph

“She does. Maybe herb harvesting and preparation are family traditions.” Bronwyn fastened the top three buttons on Alaura’s trousers. A short time ago, his mind had raced wildly, focussed only on getting her out of her clothing. His thoughts now dwelt on keeping her safe from unknown forces threatening to claim her. He considered changing her wet clothes, but delaying their departure from the attack site could bring more danger.

Compare the Sentences

Original: 53 words: A short time ago, his thoughts were fixed on getting her out of her clothing; now his only desire was to keep her safe from the unknown forces threatening to take her away. He considered changing her wet clothes, but it was vital they get away from the area as quickly as possible.

New: 51 words: A short time ago, his mind had raced wildly, focussed only on getting her out of her clothing. His thoughts now dwelt on keeping her safe from unknown forces threatening to claim her. He considered changing her wet clothes, but delaying their departure from the attack site could bring more danger.

Although I saved only two words, I’m happier with the end result.

To read 300-word vignettes for the characters in Shadows in the Stone and Scattered Stones, check out Castle Keepers Vignettes on my Diane Lynn McGyver Blog.

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15 thoughts on “Transforming a Paragraph

  1. Thanks for sharing your editing process! My novel is only 65,000 words, so a bit shorter then yours (lol), so I use the ctr+f function to find and elimante uneccesary words like ‘just’ ‘suddenly, ‘immediately’ etc… I’ll make sure to keep an eye out for ‘was’ from now on!

    • When I first began removing words like ‘that’, ‘was’ and ‘very’, I used the search in MS Word too. I still do, but now that I’m aware of these unnecessary words, I weed most of them out in my first edit. And many don’t make it in to begin with because my brain says, “No.”

      Thank you for visiting and leaving a comment. Good luck with your book.

  2. I go through the same process. Those darn wuzzes; they’re so useful and so bland. Your note about reducing word count made me laugh. My first book was terribly overwritten. I brought it down from 189K works to 130K, 1/3 of the book slashed. Agonizing, but what a great exercise!

    • When I began the first real edit on my first fantasy novel “Shadows in the Stone”, I discovered–through a beta reader–that I was a ‘was’ girl. That opened a big can of worms for me but thankfully, I’m not afraid of worms.

      In “Scattered Stones”, I started with 2,199 ‘was’ words. I’m currently down to 2021, and I still have almost 200 pages to go through.

      I agree: it can be agonizing. They are very useful and so bland. Thanks for visiting my site and leaving a comment.

  3. Nice way to document your process. The end result is much more active. Although I think the first sentence is a bit too emotional to just cut off to the present. I think it shows how much I miss critiquing novels 🙂

    A short time ago, his mind raced wildly, focused only on tearing off her clothes. A primal daydream where she also unleashed her desires. Grunting and growling as they stroked and explored each others bodies in a fit of passionate rage.

    Now, his thoughts dwelt on keeping her…

    • Wow! Now that’s a lively paragraph, and in different circumstances with different characters, it would be perfect. But this would be out of character for both Bronwyn and Alaura. It would fit Kellyn perfectly.

      Thanks for the rewrite.

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