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Wet Noodle Posse | Blog

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Cutting Pages From Your Golden Heart Entry

You've decided on a great ending point, you're ready to print, and your realize, UGH, your Golden Heart entry is too long. For some reason those 55 pages seems like a lot, until it's time to send in your entry - then they're suddenly not enough.

I found myself (all too often) in that same position when it came to contest entries. I developed a strategy that worked for me and maybe it will help you.

First, resist the temptation to reformat your manuscript. 27 lines per page might be acceptable for manuscript submission, but will it be to a judge? I am convinced there are many judges who don't have any training when it comes to judging, and in desperation when faced with 7 GH entries, the way they approach a manuscript is by looking for its faults. If you look like you have unacceptable manuscript format, you've just handed them something to mark you down for. Secondly, you may want to avoid changing the font of your manuscript to Times New Roman. TNR is perfectly fine for an editor, but often a judge will hate it. Once, when I was coordinating a contest, a judge told me she refused to read past a certain amount of pages if an entrant used TNR because she felt they had added pages, and thus had an unfair advantage. Above all, don't mess with your margins!

Okay, so what do you do first. Look at your synopsis, and try to pare it down. The maximum is 15 pages, but honestly I can't think of a single person who actually WANTS to read 15 pages of synopsis. A nice minimum is 5, and I never allowed a synopsis to go past 7. Take out any dialogue, adverbs and adjectives from your synopsis. You do want your synopsis to be as well written as your entry, but most judges want just the facts. With setting, establish time and place and move on.

Now look at your actual manuscript. Scroll through and look for any dangling words that adds lines to a paragraph. Most manuscripts have several. This is the easiest fix - with a few word changes, you can often save yourself a whole page.

Delete all words that are filters, such as could, just, seem and take out the passive was -ing.

Now look at adverbs. Adverbs are often maligned, and I'm a big fan of them, but in this case, they may not be as helpful. Plus, I think adverbs are those "zingers" that judges look for to mark a manuscript down.

Next look at dialogue. Remove anything that looks like casual conversation. Your dialogue should move the story forward and add dimension to your characters. A lot of dialogue I read in contests entries don't fit that bill, so it's an easy catch and cut.

Narrative description. Ahhhh, this is getting harder to cut. As writers we often think each word is important (and it is, it is) but when you're cutting make sure each word, sentence and paragraph is moving your story forward, and adding to the conflict or insight into the characters. Setting details for setting details sake is not evocative writing.

One thing I learned when I made these types of cuts - it didn't harm my manuscript in any way, and in fact made it tighter! So don't be afraid of your own red pen.

Lastly, and this is the hardest point of all. Don't be married to your ending point. You want to end on a place that's dynamic and leaves the reader judge with the feeling that they can't wait to read more. But sometimes you just can't get to that point. Make a second choice or even a third. The ending is important, but you can also leave a great last impression by having compelling writing throughout your entry.

Okay, this is getting long, so feel free to ask a question or toss in your own helpful hint on cutting to make your 55 pages!

23 Comments:

At 5:18 PM, Blogger CM said...

Here's a question: How do you feel about the ethics of deleting scenes/paragraphs/whatever from an entry that you would not delete from the full manuscript? For instance, let's say I have a subplot that has a relevant scene in the first 55 pages of my manuscript. It's only touched on briefly in the remainder of the entry, and if you deleted it, the story would read perfectly fine.

Is it horrible to delete those pages from the entry and yet leave them in the full manuscript as submitted?

 
At 5:25 PM, Blogger Esri Rose said...

As a paranormal writer, I think I once cut a half page or so of world-building material. It was the kind of thing that aided some plot detail later on, but wasn't necessary to those 55 pages and wasn't important enough to be mentioned in the synopsis. So out it went!

But I never sweated ending on a cliff-hanger or anything. I always worked to make my entries strong throughout, and ended where there was a nice break. I believe both of my finaling entries ended on a good laugh, since humor plays such a strong part in my writing. I think I was six pages short of the 55 mark on one of them. Giving the judge a little break isn't going to hurt you any, as long as your entry doesn't feel significantly short.

 
At 5:27 PM, Blogger Esri Rose said...

CM: How funny! I was typing the answer to your question as you were typing your question, because they showed up at the same time on my computer!

 
At 5:31 PM, Blogger CM said...

Esri, obviously your paranormals must be based on your real-world psychic powers. :)

 
At 5:38 PM, Blogger Esri Rose said...

CM: As far as the ethics of the thing go, part of the experience of entering the GH is learning to put together a good partial. That three chapters and a synopsis is the ultimate selling tool. Would you hesitate to do such a thing if you were submitting directly to an agent or editor? I certainly wouldn't. If you were cutting big sections out, then it starts to get a little iffy. I don't think there can be a final word on the ethics of this, but there is a fair amount of flexibility in this contest. If you can submit an entry when the final 20 pages are still to be written, I think this is okay, too.

 
At 6:51 PM, Blogger Theresa Ragan said...

I like your tips on cutting and tightening our books, Jill. It's funny...a lot of times when I'm getting ready to submit an entry to a contest and my first chapter is 2 pages too long, I think to myself, "there is no way this thing can be cut anymore." But then I begin to cut and tighten, ONE word at a time, figuring I'll just keep the original pages as is for sending to editors, etc....BUT then when I'm done, it's always so much crisper and cleaner and I get mad at myself for not doing that same thing earlier! LOL

Thanks for the tips!

 
At 6:54 PM, Blogger MaryF said...

CM, I've cut things in an entry that I didn't cut from the full ms, just to end where I wanted in the story. As long as it doesn't detract from the story, I don't think it's a bad idea.

 
At 7:36 PM, Anonymous Margaret B. said...

Great advice--thanks. I've been shifting back and forth between Courier and TNR, but I think the partial actually ends at a better point if I use Courier. Sometimes shorter is actually better.

 
At 8:19 PM, Anonymous gaill said...

I too switch back and forth between Courier and TNR, depending on if I need to lengthen or shorten, but one thing I've noticed is that when using Courier the print appears to be much lighter than in TNR. It makes me wonder if that makes it tougher on judges' eyes, and if that might make a difference in how they score an entry. What do you think?

 
At 9:25 PM, Blogger Keri Ford said...

I have a question. I've been told when writing to underline to mark for italics. for the printed out partials you judge, do you like to see the italics or the underline?

Thanks!

 
At 9:27 PM, Blogger Diane Gaston said...

Gaill,
There is a font called "Dark Courier" that fixes the lightness of Courier New. You can google it. I think it is out there for free somewhere.

And I totally agree with Esri and Mary that you can take out plot details from your partial that you would keep in for the full manuscript. I have cut backstory that is not relevant to the first chapters, just to make the partial read better.

It isn't wrong to use TNR but there is always a chance that you would get a judge who would score you down for it anyway. What font you use is something you can easily control, so why not do it?

 
At 9:37 PM, Anonymous rianne said...

Why is there an option for TNR if most judges seem to dislike it so much? Why don't they make Courier mandatory. I find it amazing that its says it's an acceptable and/or preferred font for most contests, but some judges actually mark you down for it. I always write in TNR because I just like the font better. Now I feel I have to change it because it will be held against me.

 
At 9:44 PM, Blogger doglady said...

I am so glad keri asked that question about italics. I have heard a couple of different things about each way. Which is preferred? These are some really great tightening tips whether you are entering a contest or not. I was also interested to see that you could edit the chapter for a contest even if it makes it different from the final manuscript, but that does make sense. I have taken things in and out between first and second drafts just to see how the story would stand with and without it.

 
At 9:51 PM, Blogger Jill Monroe said...

I always underlined in contest entries for italics. It's just so much easier to read. When I turn in a manuscript to my editor, I still do the underline, just to make sure it's clear for the person who enters the book into the system.

Rianne - sorry and I hear your frustration about TNR. It IS an acceptable font. BUT there is a bias about it with a handful of people, and you're in the contest to win it...so I always preferred to err on the side of caution.

 
At 6:11 AM, Blogger MaryF said...

I underline.

Rianne, I used TNR on one entry and it finalled, so don't sweat it. And yeah, I was squeezing ;)

 
At 6:11 AM, Blogger MaryF said...

That said, I leave the TNR entries till last to judge because they take longer!

 
At 7:26 AM, Anonymous gaill said...

maryf,
is being the last to be judged a good or a bad thing?

 
At 8:15 AM, Blogger Keri Ford said...

Thanks ladies! Underlining it is. Yeah! One less thing to alter before that deadline!

 
At 9:04 AM, Anonymous bria said...

Thanks, this is exactly what I needed - I was also curious about CM's question.

 
At 11:00 AM, Blogger Esri Rose said...

Italics: Underlining is the standard for publishing houses. It's easier to see. I always use it in contest entries.

Gaill asked if it was good to be judged last. Ideally, your entry is easy to read and doesn't have technical problems with grammar, punctuation and sentence structure. At that point, the story is unencumbererd, and it doesn't matter when in the judging process I read it. I do think I give a better critique at the beginning of the process. After grading a bunch of entries, I'm more likely to let minor things slide. So critiques I do at the beginning are slightly tougher and more detailed.

 
At 5:14 PM, Blogger MaryF said...

Bad for me, Gaill! I'm not usually a procrastinator, but when I see all those words.....

 
At 9:48 PM, Anonymous gaill said...

diane gaston,
thanks for the dark courier info, I have found and downloaded it, and your knowledge is appreciated!

 
At 2:29 PM, Blogger Patricia W. said...

I've done a wee little bit of contest judging. If an entry turns me off for no glaring reason, I put it aside and read the others first. I give the "bad" one the benefit of the doubt. Maybe it's the wrong day/time for me.

But I've never done it because of the font, probably because I prefer TNR myself, although I only submit in Courier.

 

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