This is the way one of the faculty opened his lecture on editing, one that continues to ring in my ears each time I open my project. I love that statement. As someone who thought I always wrote pretty skinny first drafts, I realized my drafts were thin because I was leaving out the meaningful details, but I still had much to cut.
Here are a few easy and simple ways he suggested "cutting the fat" from your writing:
- Qualifiers can almost always be cut (very, almost, kind of, rather, a little, a bit, maybe). Trust the meaning of your main words; qualify only if the distinction is necessary
- Simplify Verb Forms Have, had, or had can usually be eliminated from the verb without changing the meaning. Keep only if necessary to qualify the time something happened. Watch out for the word "can" as well. Only use it when it's important to show the ability to do something.
- Don't state the obvious. Shrugging (her shoulders). Blinked (her eyes). Yawned (sleepily). Look of surprise (on her face). We don't need the words in parenthesis; those are understood.
- Cut the words "that" or "which" if the sentence makes sense without it.
- Eliminate things a reader would already know. Not all details are equal. Writers have a tendency to move a character through every action; don't. For instance, we know when a person wakes up, they turn off the alarm, get out of bed, go to the bathroom, brush their teeth, get dressed. Unless this information is in some way critical, leave such detail out.
- Control the pacing of the scene by what you leave in and what you take out. Less details lead to a faster pace. Adding them slows it down.