Writing Exercise #6: Trimming the Fat


This is part of a series of exercises aimed to improve specific aspects of your writing.

You’ve got those first-draft words down, and you feel great about your story, but you’re not done. You’re nowhere near done. Now it’s time to edit, but where to begin? Some revisions mean adding more, filling in the gaps, smoothing out the pacing for a scene that flew by too fast. Other edits are all about commas, sooooo many commas.

This won’t be my only post on the joy and sorrow of editing, so be prepared to hear a lot about it. For now, I want you to consider exposition over dialogue, though this exercise can be used for everything. We’re going to focus now on how to use fewer words to achieve the same message, or in this case, fewer words to describe a scene.

The exercise:

Using 100 words, write a description for a scene setting. Where are your characters? What is the atmosphere in their world?

Once you’ve written your 100-word exposition, cut it down to 50 words. Yes, this is incredibly challenging, but you’ll find that anything is possible when you find the right words.


This will add to my current WIP being written for these exercises.

In this scene, the remaining villagers of Randgren have survived an attack on their homes from a mystery creature and are headed to the next town for help.

100 words:

The road to Mashta was no King’s Trail. A connection line to Randgren, few saw fit to maintain the overgrown path. Meandering tree roots pushed the group to the edge of the narrow trail, a canopy of vines forcing their heads low in the back of the wagon. Rocks littered the way. Its endless hills were a maddening climb. Deep ruts from past wagons pushing through heavy rains sent the cart wobbling in unintended directions. When the group was ready to make camp, they left the road and pushed farther into the forest for more comfortable conditions.

50 words:

The road to Mashta was no King’s Trail. Rocks littered steep hills. Deep ruts from storm-season travelers sent the cart wobbling in unintended directions. The only trait Randgren’s connection line had with the smooth, cobbled road to the royal city was they were both awful places to make camp.


It could be argued that the details of the 100-word version provide the reader with a better visual, but 1) These details about the roots and vines are likely to find their way into a later part of the scene. 2) The overall impression created for readers is equally effective: It’s a crappy road.

Cutting half your novel is not feasible, but when you make an effort to trim as much as possible, you’ll see that you can tell the same story with fewer words. Those few words become very powerful by measure, and show the strength of good editing. When you become a good editor, you become a better writer.

All the best to you. Happy writing. Come back for more exercises, and please Subscribe and follow.



  1. I like the concluding remarks from this exercise. I still have a ways to go with my writing, but I’m confident it is substantially improved since taking the “omit needless words” philosophy to heart. Regards – Peter

    Liked by 1 person

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