What To Cut & What To Keep In Your Book

Your Book: What To Cut & What To Keep

Are you over- or under-writing your story?  In this post, we look at five things you need to cut from your book and six things you need to keep.

If you want to write well, then learn to cut it out.

You only have 80 000 words to say what you want to say in a book. So, every word should be worth your reader’s time.

Most first time authors find it easier to write too much rather than too little.

If you don’t need a passage, let it go. If it was so good that you can’t imagine cutting it, write a short story to get it out of your head.

What To Keep In Your Book

1. Descriptions Of The Setting

We need to know where it is taking place. Although, we don’t need 10 pages on every aspect of the world. Modern audiences will not tolerate that level of detail, unless you have already earned their respect. So save this for the sequels.

2. Tone And Mood

We need to know how your story feels and looks. Work on the tone you use and the mood you create. Tone is the way the author writes about the subject matter and mood is the way the reader reacts to it. The tone will create the mood.

3. Character And Motive

We need to know what makes your characters tick and why they are doing what they are doing. We need to know their motivations.

This is critical, Don’t make me guess what your main character is feeling. I need to know that he likes the love interest before I can care about what happens to them.

4. Context

A little bit of context can really sell your reader on the importance of a plot‘s development. You need to make your readers care about what happens. We only care about the love-life of Jane from Pride and Prejudice because we know it will make or break her and her family’s lives.

5. Progression

Move forward. Pacing is important. Don’t write a scene that stagnates the plot. [Read: Everything Writers Need To Know About Scenes And Sequels]

Even peaceful moments should flow into the next stage of a story. You show the quiet times in a book so you can destroy them later. This brings us to our next point.

6. Escalating Tension

Until you have reached the climax of the story you need to create more and more tension.

Stakes should be getting higher, cliffhangers should be used, major characters should be dying, and it should look more and more desperate for our protagonist. After this, you can release the tension and wind down the story to a satisfying conclusion.

What To Cut From Your Book

1. Unnecessary Exposition

Don’t just tell the reader what has happened. Show us.

Let the character’s actions show them what is going on in the world. Let the captured spy give us crucial information. Don’t have the protagonist just state the obvious. Make sure your audience is always on the edge of their seats.

2. Too Many Characters

Never have three characters when one would do just as well. This is why main characters only have one best friend and a love interest.

Your main character should come off as an introvert loner as far the number of people they know.

3. Redundant Descriptions

Never describe a place or object more than once in a story. Everyone probably skipped the description the first-time already. It’s only you that cares about how a building looks.

4. Author Intrusion

If you want to say something in a story, give this opinion to a relevant character. But, only do this if it makes sense that that character would think this.

The job of a writer is to make a work compelling and easy to follow. If you are going off on tangents to include something you want to say, you should probably cut it and wait for a more appropriate story to write about that topic.

Suggested reading: What Is Author Intrusion?

5. Stuff You Can’t Bear To Cut.

Lastly, there will be things you love, things that make you cry, things that are very important to you that won’t make sense in the story.

Your heartless editor will say, “What does this even mean? I don’t get it. Rewrite this.”

They are almost always right.


Save these bits of writing, remember how they made you feel, and write a better version of them in another story.

The writing gods gave them to you for a reason. If your editor says it’s not the right time or place then take this as divine intervention and:

Learn to cut it out!

Written but not edited by Christopher Luke Dean

Christopher writes and facilitates for Writers Write. Follow him on Twitter: @ChrisLukeDean

If you enjoyed this post, read:

  1. 10 Mantras To Make You Grow As A Writer
  2. The Greatest Fictional World Builders: Frank Herbert
  3. Finding A Role For Fictional Fathers
  4. Describing Food In Fiction
  5. The Most Common Grammar Mistakes English Learners Make
  6. 3 Common Mistakes English Learners Make & How To Fix Them
  7. The 2 Types Of Science Fiction Plots & How To Write Them
  8. 5 Great Characters From Terry Pratchett
  9. The Greatest Fictional World Builders: George Lucas
  10. Learn How To Write In Any Language

TOP TIP: If you want to learn how to write a book, sign up for our online course.

Posted on: 28th August 2020