RedPen Editing
3 Top Tips for Pruning

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In writing, I use the term ‘to prune’ when I am challenging a writer to remove words, sentences, paragraphs even, that are not necessary.

At the top level, ask yourself these questions:

  • Are all your characters essential to the plot?
  • Do you require all of that dialogue?
  • Can the plot line be shortened by losing one or more scenes?

Getting down to the nitty gritty though,  every word should be worth its weight in gold. Superfluous ones serve as padding and, if weeded out, leave space for more important ones.

Here are three top tips when trying to prune.

Pruning tip #1: STAY IN THE MOMENT

Does your reader need to know everything? It’s easy to write more than necessary by way of description, when all the reader needs is an insight into what is happening right now. If what the MC (main character) is noticing (hearing / seeing / smelling / touching / tasting) leads on to reflection, be careful that that train of thought belongs here, if at all. A test of its worth is: ‘Does the reader need this extra information to understand what is happening?’


Look out for sentences which simply repeat information which the reader could have worked out for him or herself. If you are explaining a process, be careful not to go into too much detail; if you are summing up a situation, the odds are you can remove the summary altogether.

Be careful also not to raise a concern and then immediately address it. Stealing thunder kills the reader’s desire to read on. Aim not to reveal anything until you absolutely have to – if at all.

Pruning tip #3: ADVERBS / ADJECTIVES

Nine times out of ten, an adverb can be lost altogether. If the verb then doesn’t work for you, find a better verb! Ditto for adjectives …

Finally, set yourself a challenge – eg to lose 10% – and stop as soon as you have met that target word count. Repeat the exercise again tomorrow – lose another 10%. And again the next day, until you think it’s impossible to prune another word. Only then, stop!

Enjoy your pruning …