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Saturday, December 17, 2011

Slim Down Your Manuscript This Holiday Season

I'm always happy to have Rayne Hall stop by. Her posts are always informative and, based on the response from my friends and followers, you all agree.

When I finished The Widow's Walk last year, it was way too long for a paranormal romance: a whopping 110,000 words. I knew there was some fat to be trimmed, and suspected that there was an entire chapter that I could delete. But that wouldn't have made a dent in the job. I had to get the novel down well below 100,000, in the 80-90,000 range if possible.

Having worked with Rayne as a critique partner  for several years, I've learned how to cut and tighten my writing. And now she's offering a class, with her usual copious amount of information and feedback. Using her suggestions when I revised, The Widow's Walk topped of at just under 97,000 words

Rayne, can you summarize how to get started?

In thirty years as an editor, I've found the same fatty words bloat the style of many authors.

Here are two notorious phrases: 'begin to' and 'start to'. They contain empty calories without real nutrition. If you cut them from your diet your writing style will be come sharper and tighter.

Beginner writers are prone to overusing these two phrases. Editors need only glance at the first page of a manuscript. If it contains 'begin to' or 'start to' (or both, perhaps even more than once), they know a beginner wrote this. 

'Begin to' and 'start to' are almost always unnecessary.  If something happens, you don't need to tell the reader that it starts to happen. Just let it happen.


Fat version
She began to run.
Slim version
She ran.

Fat version
Rain began to fall.
Slim version
Rain fell.

Fat version
She started to shiver.
Slim version
She shivered.

Fat version
His lips started to quiver.
Slim version
His lips quivered.

Fat version
The dog started to growl.
Slim version
The dog growled.

Use your word processor's Find&Replace tool to count how many times you've used 'begin to' (begins to, beginning to, began to, begun to) and 'start to' (starts to, started to, starting to).

You don't need to cut every single 'begin to' and 'start to'. Sometimes, when an action starts and is abandoned immediately,  they help clarify what's going on:

She began to walk home, but changed her mind after a few steps.
He started to paint the fence, but Jane halted his arm.

About four 'begin' or 'start' per novel are fine - but forty are a sign of fat-wobbling writing, and four hundred are definitely too much.

I'd love to hear from you. When you've checked your WiP for 'begin to' and 'start to', post a comment to tell me how many you've found, and whether you're going to cut some of them.

What other 'wordy words' do you think writers can cut from from their word diet?

If you have questions about writing style, or need advice on  how to tighten your writing, please ask. I'll be around for a week, and I enjoy answering questions.

If your writing style tends towards wordy waffling, if your critique partners urge you to tighten, and if editorial rejections point out dragging pace, this class may be the answer. It's perfect for toning your manuscript before submitting to editors and agents, or for whipping it into shape before indie publishing.


This is an interactive class with twelve lessons and twelve assignments, for writers who have a full or partial manuscript in need of professional polish. At the end of the class, you may submit a scene for individual critiques.

Dr Rayne's Word-Loss Diet is much more fun than depriving yourself of food, and you'll see real results fast.

The Word-Loss Diet, presented by Rayne Hall

1-31 January 2012

Registration deadline: December 29, 2011

Rayne's recent release, Storm Dancer, features Merida, a magician who dances for rain in the parched desert world in which she finds herself imprisoned. The novel is epic in scope and explores the concept of a djinn that possesses Dahoud,  a former warrior, compelling him to commit terrible crimes against women. 

He and Merida find themselves thrown together by circumstances beyond their control. Will he  able to defeat his djinn, and will she be able to forgive his transgressions to accomplish the impossible and save the town entrusted to their care? 

Mysterious, dark, full of political intrigue and meticulously researched, Rayne brings this Bronze Age world to life right before the reader's eyes with unique, fascinating characters, vivid detail, and a complex, compelling plot. She puts her expertise on writing fantasy, magical systems, and fight scenes to the test, leaving readers unable to resist turning the page.

Read an Excerpt

Amazon Buy Link


  1. Terrific advice! Thank you so much for sharing it.

  2. Every time I start to use "start" I think, "Wait a minute. If my character is doing the action, the start is already implied." Now, if s/he gets interrupted...

    I found the more I do this, the more ingrained it becomes in my subconscious. :-)

  3. I used 'began to' twice and 'started to' five times. No too bad, I suppose.

  4. Hi Nickie,
    Two 'began' and five 'started' in a manuscript of how many words?

  5. Hi Pam,
    Yes, I think the use of 'begin to' and 'start to' is a habit, and once we're aware of it, we can break it.
    When I first started writing fiction in the English language, I overused 'began to'. Once I was aware of it, and once I'd spent an hour hunting down and killing all the 'began to' in a WiP, something changed in my brain. I never used 'began to' again unless an action was interrupted.

  6. That's not bad at all. It's about how often NYT bestselling authors use those words. :-)

  7. Yay. Though I bet I have tons of other offenders.

  8. New Year's resolution: cut those other offenders from your writing diet. :-)