Any time that I have time to work on a written piece before submitting it, I like to subject it to a “fluff-cut.” A Fluff-Cut is a straight read-through of the text (in this particular case 15,000 words), looking for sentences that are badly constructed or contain more than one ‘the’ or are otherwise flawed in some fashion. Any sentence that is longer than three lines on the page is a candidate for re-working, as well.
I’m only about 2000 words into this current fluff-cut, but I’ve removed about 200 words so far. This is about right. Steven King, in his book On Writing, suggests that in his editorial process he usually strips about 10% of the word-count from his books, so that a 350,000 word book will lose about 35,000 words in the course of revision. This is a pretty rigorous standard to achieve, actually.
My own ‘keys’ for a fluff-cut are these words:
• [insert adverb here]
• [insert adjective here]
Here’s a typical pair of sentences in the first draft.
The next largest territory, [two words], is named less for what it is than what it used to be. In fact, the modern Principality is a physician’s nightmare-garden.
Twenty-nine words… not bad, you might think. Not bad at all.
Second-largest, [two words] is a physician’s nightmare-garden still clinging to its ancient idyllic name.
But this is sixteen words, and given the paragraph and place in the text where it appears, it still retains all the necessary information.
Here’s another sentence:
Mortals in heavy protective suits wander the fields and thickets of the [land], collecting leaves, stems and bark from the cornucopia of medicinally useful plants that grow here.
twenty-seven words…. Hmmm. OK. Could it be better?
Harvesters wear heavy protective suits against infection and venomous insects, while they gather medicinal but dangerous plants from the backcountry.
Twenty-one words here… but hey! new information… harvesters, infection, venomous insects! Sure it could!
Harvesters gathering medicinal but dangerous plants from the backcountry require heavy protective suits against infection and venomous insects.
Nineteen words, no fluff. could be better? sure!
Backcountry harvesters gathering medicinal but dangerous plants require special armor to prevent infection and venomous insect bites.
Seventeen words, and now we’re pretty tight. There’s a lot of information consolidated into that one sentence. And we’ve saved ten words for some part of the project that’s currently lacking. That’s not bad, not bad at all.
Not everything gets edited to this standard. For one thing, it’s not a very high-paying job, and there’s a limit to how much time I’m willing to invest in getting things right. But this project, I think, needs another 1500 words to make it work, so I’m investing the time.