5 Ways To Reduce A Big Word Count

As a writer penning a book, there will be times when no matter how tight you’ve made your storyline, or how close you’ve stuck to your planned number of pages, you’ve gone over your word count.

And not by a little. You’ve gone over it by a lot. So much so that you’re 20,000 extra words deep and haven’t even started the edits that give detailed life to your book world but bloat the word count.

With that amount of excessive words you’ll need to make drastic cuts, and if you have no clue how to do that, here are 5 ideas that will help.

5 Ways To Reduce A Big Word Count

If the word count for your genre, submission guideline, or self-imposed length is 20,000-50,000 words (or higher) more than it needs to be, it’s really easy to wonder what on earth you’re going to remove.

The good news is that small cuts make a big difference. Tweaking something in every paragraph is going to significantly reduce your word count once you’ve fine-tooth-combed every sentence from the first to the last, and this is how you do that…

What To Cut:

  • One Event
  • The Boring Bits
  • Weak Words
  • The Over-Explaining
  • Repetitive Mentions

1. One Event

When your draft is complete and you know how much needs to be cut, really look at what has to be included in your overall story.

If you cast a critical eye, I’m sure you’ll find at least one event that could lift out.

Perhaps this event snuck in during the drafting stage when you didn’t know where the story was heading and you’ve kept it in. Or maybe it’s an idea that doesn’t work as well as it should, but you love it so much, you’ve convinced yourself it needs to stay.

It’s the ultimate kill-your-darlings test, and if you feel you can’t make such a cut, ask a beta reader or someone trusted who isn’t as attached to the story to point out which element can be removed without losing what’s important.

You’ll likely find cutting this event makes the story better. Just remember to move any relevant reveals or info into the chapters you’re keeping.

2. The Boring Bits

You might think nothing in your book is boring and that every word creates a sentence that’s needed, but that could be why your word count is so high.

It’s time to be ruthless and cut the boring bits. You know what they are, they’re the paragraphs even you gloss over when you’re reading your work.

If the scene doesn’t do its job of moving the story along or deepening your characters, it can be cut. No matter if it has the best sunset description you’ve ever committed to paper, or invokes one of your favorite memories, if it even hints at an eyes-glaze-over vibe, give it the flick.

3. Weak Words

We all have certain words that we use way too much. What we also don’t realize about these words is how much of a difference cutting them makes, not only to our word count, but to the clarity of our sentences.

Although clearing your MS of weak words takes time and is mind-numbingly tedious, it’s going to eliminate thousands of words and is well worth doing.

Use the instructions from The Weak Word Checklist to get yourself acquainted with the process, and make your find/search function your best excess word slaying tool.

4. The Over-Explaining

Hands up if you need to make things clear to yourself as you’re writing. That’s me too. I’m also so excellent at stage directing that a character doesn’t move in a scene without me describing it in every possible detail.

You might need those things to get the story on the page, to understand what you’re doing and where you’re going as you pants your way through each chapter. And that’s fine when it helps to get the story written, but after that, it’s time to be ruthless and cut the over-explaining.

To do this, look at your sentences and adopt the mantra: simple, tight, and precise.

  • Excess word count: She crouched down and then reached her hand toward the ball.
  • Simple, tight, and precise (with a slight re-write): She crouched and reached for the ball.
  • Excess word count: She started to walk up the stairs.
  • Simple, tight, and precise (with a slight re-write): She walked up the stairs.

See the difference cutting the over-explaining words can make. The reader still knows what’s happening, the sentence is more active, and you’ve cut words.

Do that for as many sentences as you can (where applicable) and watch your word count shrink.

5. Repetitive Mentions

This is another writing habit that contributes to big word counts. It usually crops up when you’ve been writing an MS over a long period (months or years) and have forgotten that you’ve already mentioned the MC’s habit of collecting sea shells in chapter 3, have brought it again in chapter 15, and then while working on chapter 35 for good measure.

Unless something is extremely important to the plot and needs to be mentioned more than once for emphasis or closer to a payoff so the reader connects the dots, make sure you haven’t mentioned the same thing too many times. Key info in the right place is more important, so aim for that goal instead and get rid of any repetitive mentions.

When it comes to the art of writing, no words are wasted. Crafting them makes you a better writer, as does knowing when and where to delete them. Don’t be afraid of cutting to reduce a big word count. It’s usually exactly what your story needs and is a great writing skill that will serve you well for many manuscripts to come.

— K.M. Allan

Find me on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, and Goodreads.

39 thoughts on “5 Ways To Reduce A Big Word Count

    1. Thanks, Alexander! I’m so happy to hear it’s helpful. I’m going to be needing these tips myself when I get the final draft of my current WIP. I’m already 10,000 words over my word count goal and I still have 17 chapters to go.

      Liked by 1 person

  1. Sorry, forgot to mention that I always save the cut passages in a “Deleted ” file (MS Word). This is especially helpful if the book is part of a series. I have been able to use a lot of deleted material in other books, and it saved me tons of time. Another reason to save it is realizing later that you cut something which really needs to stay – perhaps in altered form, but now you don’t have to reinvent the wheel to put it back in.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Yes! I do this too, and did have a section in this post about using what you cut in other works or turning removed scenes into a novella as a free newsletter subscriber bonus, but I cut it out because (ironically) it made the blog too long 😂. I did save it, though, and the cut info may pop up in a different post at another time.

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Glad to hear it could help you, Glynis 😊. A novella is a great idea for big word count cuts. Anything huge I’ve cut I’ve ended up reusing in other books in my series, but I’m sure if I went through my deleted text files I’d find stuff that could be bonus scenes or enough for a novella. It’s finding the time to do that that’s the issue 🤣. Best of luck reusing your cuts!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. petespringerauthor

    Great post, Kate. I’ve got a novel in storage right now as I focus on what is necessary to make it work. I’ve put it aside to think about it, and I’m about to take another crack. Look out! Pete’s grabbing the garden shears.😊

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks, Pete! One thing I learned with my last MS was how great putting it aside for a few months was. It really is the best way to forget things enough to work out where you’re going and what needs to be fixed. Grab those shears when you’re ready and have fun cutting 😊.

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Excellent tip, Rebecca 😀. I’ve added POV’s to add more words when I’ve underwritten, but never thought to look at removing one if I had too many words. Will keep that trick in mind for future manuscripts.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Overexplaining and repetition… me, me, and me! I tend to write through rough patches and end up with a handful of chapters that are completely useless. I admit, though, I enjoy cutting those large chunks during the editing process!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’m the worst for repetition too. It’s great that you love cutting so much. I’ve been afraid to cut in the past, and now know the power of getting rid of what doesn’t need to be there. Thanks for reading, Rachel 😊.


  4. This is so opposite from my usual problem, which is underwriting! And what’s worse is that even with my lack of words, I still have a ton of boring bits, like characters commuting, or thinking about their decisions, or just having mundane conversations. Gah. Anyway, thanks for this post!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks, Stuart. I usually underwrite too. My current WIP is the first time I’ve really overwritten and I’m going to have to cut so much when I get to the final draft. Sometimes that mundane stuff is needed if it’s developing your characters 😊.


  5. Pingback: 5 Ways To Reduce A Big Word Count - K. M. Allan - E. M. Sherwood Foster

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