1. JCKey618
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    JCKey618 Member

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    The '10% less rule' for 2nd draft-- how best to follow it?

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by JCKey618, Dec 26, 2008.

    I know this as a rule Stephen King defined in his book 'On Writing' and I'm sure he didn't invent it/other people do similar things, but anyway, he said that the second draft of a novel should be 10-15% shorter than the 1st draft. The reason is because, of course, you want to get rid of the excess in the story. Cut the fat, if you will.

    I'm finding it really hard to do. My first draft was 144k or so words. I've been revising it for the last 3 months (looong process), am on my 3rd go through of the whole novel, and currently the word count is 148.5k. Now, while I have no way of knowing this, I suspect that in the process I have cut out close to 10% of what was originally there, but then I have made up for that and more by adding stuff. I think adding stuff is inevitable in the 2nd draft to tie up loose ends, bring out themes, develop characters, etc, etc. Also, my genre is fantasy, so I find myself adding a lot just to make the world coherent and to make sure that the unique things about my fantasy world are clear.

    That being said, does anyone have any advice on how to achieve this goal? Should I try to restrict how much I add? Also, for those who also try to follow this 'rule' do you think that the 10% is mostly through plot reductions (cutting out whole scenes) or through reducing wordiness (same plot/amount of scenes, more or less, just said more concisely), or a combination of both? This was kind of unclear for me in On Writing. I don't know exactly what elements King is suggesting that writers should be looking for to take out.

    I was thinking that maybe I should just wait until I think the story is complete, and then return for 'cutting the fat.' For example, if I finish this run-through (the run through I'm on has the specific purpose of tying loose ends, making everything coherent and nice) with 150k words, then I go back with the goal of cutting it to 135k or so instead of trying to bring the word count down from the original 144k count of the first draft.

    Any thoughts/advice on the subject would be greatly appreciated.
     
  2. Cheeno
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    Cheeno Contributing Member

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    When you feel you've brought the work as far as you can, and have edited as completely as you feel you can, I'd recommend putting it away and spending time 'actively' reading works in the genre as well as serious works on the editing and reviewing process. Give yourself at least six months, not just to achieve the required objectivity, but to get a substantive handle on reviewing and editing. After a further edit, you might want to consider investing in a professional editor who will certainly be able to go places you might not have. In saying that, sending your work off doesn't necessarily guarantee you'll get back what you're looking for, though a good editor will provide a consultative service where you can apply their feedback and continue to benefit from their experience. Can prove expensive, but could be worthwhile in bringing your work to a state of readiness and 'respect' agents and publishers look for.
     
  3. goldhawk
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    goldhawk Senior Member

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    I haven't read the book but I think what King was talking about is the wordiness that many beginner writers do, such as adding too much detail or writing redundant descriptions. For example : She concealed the hidden camera with her coat. Hidden is clearly redundant.

    I'm also thinking 10% is very conservative. Only experience writers could get away with that small amount. Beginners should expect a reduction of 1/4 to 1/3.
     
  4. Banzai
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    Banzai One-time Mod, but on the road to recovery Contributor

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    I think its a bad idea to set yourself a specific target. When I edit, I just go through the story, and highlight what works well, what doesn't, what is essential, what doesnt need to be there, etc. I don't really care if the amount I remove corresponds to some completely arbitrary figure.
     
  5. Rei
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    Rei Contributing Member Contributor

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    And not everyone even needs to have a reduction. Think about it. While you're getting rid of excess words, like in the above example, you may need to add a scene, realize that you didn't describe a location very well, or provide some exposition that you missed.
     
  6. Banzai
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    Banzai One-time Mod, but on the road to recovery Contributor

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    Exactly. It just strikes me as incredibly naive to approach writing in such a formulaic fashion.
     
  7. ArckAngel
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    ArckAngel Member

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    Strange concept for me, as my stories tend to grow through each revision. And people keep telling me that they need to grow even more. Make this 30 pages instead of 14, make it chapter one, that kind of thing.
     
  8. AnonyMouse
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    AnonyMouse Contributing Member Contributor

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    ^ Same here. I have a fast-paced writing style that tends to move through things quickly. For me, editing typically consists of adding things.

    I keep a copy of every draft I do and they've been steadily getting longer. In my first go-through, chapters averaged about 4-5 pages. Now, most are around 7-8. I've never been one to waste words, but the new scenes, more description, and better word-choice have made the work longer and improved it.
     
  9. goldhawk
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    goldhawk Senior Member

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    I too write very terse. Others have described my writing as "a machine-gun rapidity of sentences." I find it takes a conscience effort to relax my writing enough for others to feel comfortable with it.

    And knowing this, I find myself reluctant to critique others. When I try to, I find myself deleting almost half their words. It seems excessive but, to me, it seems necessary. I'm afraid I'll go too far and introduce the opposite effect. There is just no happy medium. :(
     
  10. Nilfiry
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    Nilfiry Contributing Member

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    Actually, I really don't recommend following that rule. You should write until you feel that it's good enough. If you can't cut anything then don't. Not every method works for everyone.
     
  11. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    I find it ironic that King would promote this rule. Ten percent? That may be a very conservative number, unless your writing is very tight even on your first draft.
     
  12. garmar69
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    garmar69 Contributing Member Contributor

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    This is a good example of why the 10% reduction suggestion won't work for everyone. As a new writer, I find that I don't always get the back story in, or a character becomes more important as the story progresses and ends up needing to be fleshed out more in succeeding drafts.

    I have wondered about the wisdom of trying to carve--to use the OP's manuscript as an example--almost 14 1/2K from a manuscript based on an example found in a writing book. It is so individual. Maybe one person makes an amazingly clean 1st draft and would be hacking his/her story to pieces to even cut out 1%. While another may need to cut out even more than 10%.

    I think as writers we need to use common sense and try what works best for us as individuals and treat the 10% rule like every other writing 'rule' out there; analyze what works for you, and what doesn't and keep changing until you find a style that works best for you.

    I also think King doesn't follow his own advice. I read Duma Key recently and I'm pretty sure he ran out of red pens, as did his editor. At least 20% could have been carved off that one. But I guess once you become as prominent in the literary world as King, you can bloody well do what you want.
     
  13. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    'rules' like that are ridiculous, plain and simple!... and i'd never recommend the king of schlockmeistery's how-to to anyone who wants to learn how to be a good writer...

    heed rei and banzai's words... if king had followed his own rule in this regard, his gluck might be a tad less bad...
     
  14. captain kate
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    captain kate Active Member

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    I agree with you, mom!

    exactly! One wants to know how to write good books, read the good writers, like Ludlum, Koontz (at times), David Weber, et al.
     
  15. NaCl
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    NaCl Contributing Member Contributor

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    I agree with everyone above...just write your story the way it feels best to you. Then, when an editor gets hold of your manuscript, the "killing of your darlings" will be merciless. LOL
     
  16. Mr Vampyre
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    Mr Vampyre Member

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    We're getting into opinions about authors now, which probably isn't where we want to be going since we all have different ideas on who we think are good writers and who we think are not.

    I do agree though that one should read.

    I never heard of the 10% rule until I opened this thread. Needless to say I just go with how I feel. Sometimes I'll cut a lot, sometimes a little; sometimes I'll add a lot; sometimes a little; sometimes I'll do nothing.
     
  17. Show
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    Show Contributing Member Contributor

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    I can't say I agree with King on this. I mean, sure, it's easy to say that when you can submit a novel of any length or quality and get it published and heavily promoted just because your one of the most famous writers in your genre.

    But for most, there is a size minimum to get published which means shortening your novel that much could easily make your work way too short. And also, I doubt that much of your work is filler. While some may resemble filler and may even meet the definition of filler, sometimes filler is necessary to set up a scene or to keep a scene from feeling too out of nowhere. (ie, one may argue that a casual conversation in a diner is unnecessary filler in my novel that can be cut. But I argue that, while the scene itself isn't relevant, it sets up a major and very important scene that would feel extremely rushed and would leave reads feeling like the scene came out of nowhere. So I find it necessary to make the follow scene flow better.)

    So while maybe for some people, his rule works, I cannot say that I agree with it, at least for the work I write.
     
  18. cwpcreator
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    cwpcreator Member

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    I agree with the defamation of the 10% rule. I also think its ludicrous to classify all beginning writers the same way. Saying something like, "Most beginning writers will need to cut up to 1/4 or 1/3" is ridiculous. Many may need to cut that much, but others may need to cut less than 1%.

    It just shows that people have no faith in writer's who haven't yet been published. If that's the case, I'd suggest sticking to the big guns like King, Koontz, Cussler and the like.
     
  19. architectus
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    architectus Banned

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    In On Writing, King gives an example of how he cuts 10%. He uses his short story 1408. It is really worth studying his corrections to that story. It has to do with cutting sentences, rewording sentences, and making sentences shorter, cutting pointless or redundant words and phrases.

    Here is an example of the original and the revision.

    And even if Ostermeyer had decided to throw up another roadblock or two between Mike and room 1408, that wasn’t all bad; it would simply add to the story when he finally told it. Ostermeyer saw him, got up, and was crossing the room with one pudgy hand held out as Mike left the revolving door. (56 words)

    And even if Olin had decided to throw up another roadblock or two between Mike and room 1408, that wasn’t all bad; there were compensations. Olin was crossing the room with one pudgy hand held out as Mike Left the revolving door. (42 words)

    Here is another good example.

    “Of course, Mr. Ostermeyer. Should I leave my bag at the desk, or bring it in?”

    “Oh, we’ll bring it along, shall we?” Ostermeyer, the good host, reached for it. Yes, he still held out some hope of persuading Mike not to stay in the room. Otherwise, he would have directed Mike to the desk . . . or taken it there himself. (63 words)

    Of course, Mr Olin.”

    Olin, the good host, reached for Mike’s bag. (12 words)

    Huge reduction. He figured all that small talk was not needed.

    It’s hard but cut the crap that doesn’t forward the story.
     
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  20. March301
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    March301 New Member

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    Yeah, I can definitely see where he's going with that. However, my story actually ended up increasing word count between the first and second draft; I found there were lots of scenes I didn't flesh out completely, or scenes that didn't flow well: "Wait a sec, my character was just asleep a second ago, how did she end up on the beach?!" So I added words. I also cut down on words as well. I found a did a lot of: "She was upset that..." and then a paragraph later: "[blah blah] made her sad."

    I guess it just depends on your particular story and what it needs.
     
  21. Rei
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    Rei Contributing Member Contributor

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    I think the mistake King was making when he wrote that "rule" was that we all don't write and tell stories the same way. He probably gets everything that could ever happen written in the first draft, which is why he always needs to cut when revising, whereas others may only write little more than a skeleton in the first draft.
     
  22. garmar69
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    garmar69 Contributing Member Contributor

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    That's kind of my problem when I write. But I'm noticing as write more, more of the story comes out whole in the first draft.
     
  23. Sophronia
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    Sophronia Member

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    I haven't heard of the 10% rule before this either, although I know authors/editors will cut out scenes and parts out of the manuscript to improve the story and what naught.

    On my current project, I've ended up cutting out irrelevant or nonsensical parts while writing. I don't know if that's a good habit or not, but it's helped to keep the story focused and flowing. When I'm done with the first draft, I'll go back through it and probably cut out more or add more, depending on what's needed. I don't have a specific percentage that I'm going to cut off, though.

    Follow what rule you like if it helps improve your writing. I've read little of King's stuff, but haven't read his how-to book, so I won't say whether you should follow his rule or not unless you want to.
     
  24. Dante Dases
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    Dante Dases Contributing Member Contributor

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    Quite frankly I don't think you can ever suggest 'rules' like this to a writer, simply because every writer works in a different way. The 10% rule might work for Stephen King, and some writers could benefit from the idea, but not all would.

    When I write, I work first and foremost to the best of my ability. Second drafts tend to be either complete re-writes (my current project is) or simply clean-up jobs, altering words, cutting words, adding clarity where it's needed. On one of those the word count can leap up or down, to the point of the book sometimes needing to become two, or two suddenly becoming one, and on another it hardly changes 0.1%, never mind 10%.

    The last draft of my current project weighed in at 130,000 words. My prediction for the current draft is around 175,000+, because my style has matured and I'm implementing more ideas that will work in the plot.
     
  25. architectus
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    architectus Banned

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    Honest it really applies to everyone unless they are somehow able to write all lean sentences with no fat the first time around. I never met someone who can do that. I bet if you posted something you wrote an editor that is good at cutting can cut your work. We tend to be redundant in nature.
     

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