How to Cut Length in Your Story

Since I reopened my editing services on, I’ve been encountering authors that want me to edit novels that are between 30 and 40 chapters.  40 chapters.  For a teen fiction novel.  These authors are what I am going to discuss today, I call them “chapter happy.”

Now, chapter happy doesn’t necessarily mean that they like to have a lot of chapters (even though they usually do).  It’s more of wanting to make their books as long as possible.  This is a problem.  Here are some general word counts for publishing based on some research I’ve done:

Adult fiction: above 70k but less than 115k

Teen/YA Fiction: 50k to less than 100k

Now, if a book has 40 chapters at 2.5k to 4k words, this is a HUGE problem.  I’m having an issue with my longest client currently.  I have been editing her 41-chapter story for almost two years.  I am hoping that it is almost finished.

The problem is this: descriptions, plot twists, and the feeling that everything needs to be important.  And no, they can’t take out that section of description about the clothes or that page of dialogue where the two friends greet each other and talk about their weekends.  It is far too important.

So, here are a few quick tips on how to cut down length in your story to avoid the issue of it going outside the idea word count for publishing:

1. Mega Descriptions: how green a tree is in the backyard, long greetings, big conversations, and especially, the one that grinds my gear the most: lengthy descriptions of clothes.

2. Long Conversations:  Now of course, if it’s the queen telling her kingdom that she’s stepping down, Brody telling his little brother Greg that he has cancer, or Katie telling her husband that she’s been having an affair, of course give it some length.  Important scenes are well, important and deserve such attention.  If it’s two friends giggling in homeroom, it surely doesn’t need to be more than a few sentences.

3. Plot Twists: I have had such a problem with this that it’s not even funny.  Basically, if the story already has enough going on, don’t add something else. The two detectives already up to their heads in a mystery don’t have to suddenly become long lost twins, lovers, etc.

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