I'm a numbers guy, as I've mentioned in a previous post. I count words, paragraphs and pages, especially when revising. As soon as I write, "The End," on the first draft, I count the words and set my goal for revising accordingly. That goal is always 25%. That is, my final draft will be 25% shorter than the first draft.
As an example, my most recently completed project, The Splintered Paddle, for which I'm currently trying to find a publisher, had a word count of approximately 105,750 on the first draft. Seventy-five percent of that is 79,312 words. My goal was to cut out 26,438 words.
Non-number people might look at that goal and say, "Shouldn't your goal be to make it the best possible?" Well, yes, that is my goal, but how do you know when you have reached that draft that represents the best possible? My answer is, it's 25% shorter.
David, first draft?
Is there something magical about 25%? Why not cut out 20% or 15%? I don't think there is any rule of writing that says the final draft should be 25% shorter than the first draft. Perhaps my first drafts have a lot of fat in them. Other writers might have 20 or 15 percent fat. I know, from keeping track of my submissions, that the published versions of my stories have all been about 25% shorter than the first drafts. I don't even bother submitting a story that has been cut less than 20%. For me, therefore, the solution is 25%.
Stephen King says the second draft should be 10% shorter than the first. In fact, my second drafts fit that formula. If I could make each draft 10% shorter than the previous one, I would achieve my goal of 25% reduction in four drafts. Alas, that doesn't happen. It's easy to cut 10% from a first draft. The first draft is always full of characters that don't develop, scenes with no point, and paragraph after paragraph of choking description. Those are like the big globs of fat on a brisket--easy to cut away, but the result is only ten percent leaner. Getting at the rest of the fat is tougher. It means tweaking scenes to get the biggest impact from fewer sentences and paring sentences down to the most powerful nouns and verbs. It requires a lot more than four drafts to get that 25% solution.
David, final draft.
As for, The Splintered Paddle, which I mentioned at the beginning of this post, it comes in on draft number 17 at 78,500 words--26% leaner than draft number one.
Do you have a percentage that you shoot for when you revise or do you aim for some other criterion? If so, what percentage?
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