How To Cut Down a Manuscript

Cutting a document to size is the bane of every writer’s existence. Admit it… we’re in love with our words. But extra words cost money… more scenes in a movie increase shooting costs. TV has a rigidly defined length and commercial break format that requires a very precise page count. Books are no exception… more words = more paper and increased shipping weight. Cutting a manuscript to size is something we all will experience at one time or another.

So how to determine what to cut or where? Beginning… end… middle? Where should you start?

Twenty years in television has finely honed these skills. It’s about balance and structure. Here’s my simple formula.

1. Divide total page count in half… write that number down. Now divide front half in half and write that number down. Divide end half in half and write that number down.

2. Arrange numbers as follows: FH (first half) = end of act one. Middle half = midpoint and EH (end half) = end of act two.

3. Now open up the manuscript and read each of these pages — I suggest you begin with the midpoint (it’s where many scripts and manuscripts go awry). What’s on this page (plus or minus one page) should be the middle switcheroon, all bets are off and we’re in so much trouble point of your story. If this physical middle point matches with your story… you’re good. But if the middle of your story is either earlier or later, you now have guidelines for where to cut. If the middle is 3 pages later… cut 3 pages from the first half. If the middle falls before this part, cut 3 pages from the end.

4. One you have the middle set (and if you still need to reduce your size) you can apply this to the front and end of your story.

It might sound wierd, but it totally works. Try it.

About Sheryl Scarborough

For MONEY I have written: TV series, cartoons, comic books, graphic novels, magazine articles, Business Plans, Direct Music Marketing letters (as Mariah Carey, MC Hammer and others), Corporate Newsletters, Mens Style (online) Magazine (as managing editor),screenplays (well, okay so not so much about the money there) and Restaurant Reviews (for free food!) Now… I’m writing for love and what I LOVE are young adult mystery novels.

On Writing

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