I’ve written about how to edit book-length pieces of work but this post covers how to cut a travel article.
These days it’s rare to get a commission for more than 1200 words. So, say, you have written 2,500 words and your brief is 800 words. How to shave off all those extras?
Firstly, a tip on process. Always save earlier drafts of your story before you cut. That way, if you edit something that you later want, you can retrieve it. I suggest numbering your drafts like this #1, #2 as they are easier to file electronically. You can also date them.
It’s often easier to edit by printing out a copy of your story. This is time-consuming but until you get used to on-screen editing, it’s more effective. Print it out double-spaced, boil a brew, and choose a favourite red pen/pencil. Make corrections and cross through words on the hard copy. Then, start a new draft on your computer and type in the changes.
As you read your story Follow the Writer’s Mantra: How does this Sentence Advance the Story? If it doesn’t, it can probably go.
What can you cut?
Colour. This covers descriptions, adjectives, flowery turns of phrase. i.e ‘The dolphins leapt through the foaming waves, sunlight glinting on their silvery backs,’ can become ‘the dolphins leapt through the waves’.
In travel writing there’s a tendency to repeat descriptions of birds/trees/landscape/people. Often you only need a flavour of where you are visiting. Choose a couple of your best descriptions and lose the rest.
Personal anecdotes. Although travel journalism is written from the first-person point of view, the ‘I’ in a story can often dominate. ‘I was feeling sleepy as the sun rose over the plains’ can become ‘The sun rose over the plains.’
Turn passive verbs into active verbs.
Find quicker ways of describing something. i.e ‘The man walked fast’ can be ‘The man sprinted’.
Re-structure your paragraphs. If you have brief (thumb-nail) descriptions of your ski instructor dotted throughout the story, group into one paragraph.
Quotes. You can always pare back a quote. You only need a fragment to convey a sense of character.
Lastly, lose attachment to your words. Kill your darlings! The more precious you are, the harder it is when you are ruthlessly edited.
If you have a word limit, stick to it. Remember that when you edit your own work, you get to choose what stays in. This, in itself, is empowering.
P.S For my Sydney readers, my last 5-week travel memoir course for 2011 starts next Wednesday 12th October at the Sydney Writers Centre.
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