Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Heidi Cullinan's Cull List

They don't call her Heidi Cullinan for nothing. This is her cull list for self-editing before she sends it to the editor. Take heed from the Queen of Queer, folks. Her success is not just talent, it's hard work and days and days of Culling!

From her Facebook page 11/22/14:

Every time I say I'm cutting 8k people flip out and think I'm taking away great scenes. The truth is I've cut as much as 20k without taking a single scene out. I'm a horrible overwriter, which means I can excise huge hunks of my work by tak...ing out excessive stage direction, tightening dialog, making soliloquies more concise. I took out 6k today simply by those methods.

Starting tomorrow, though? I got through this list. At the time of this note, Lonely Hearts is 119,735 words long. I'll go through these words to make sure there are as few of them as possible, and after that's done I'll do one more read, sometimes aloud, to make sure I can make it even snappier. I'll report back and let you know how much fat this list results in me trimming.

Tchotchke is a
Damon Suede note. I actually need to add "literally" and "shade" because Elijah overuses them. When I'm done, my editor will come back and tell me even more, because I always have book specific ones that I don't know about until she peers under the hood. Often it's one character abusing something or overusing some construction.

So whenever I say I'm cutting, don't worry, I'm not taking away story. I'm taking away the stuff getting in the way of you enjoying the story more, like polishing the glass and making your cushions fluffier.
I used to do them all at once but I went insane. Now I do the 'per scene' ones a chapter at a time, then read through the chapter then move on. At a book 118k long, this is taking me several days. Then I'll go through and do the global and the specific. There will still be plenty my editor finds, but then she finds the GOOD stuff. Things I can't possibly see.

The thing to remember about these lists is while it's good to start with a generic one or someone else's list, at some point it has to be edited to be YOURS. I've taken words off and put new ones on, and some always crop up as bugaboos for particular manuscripts. I've noticed as I cull one word from abuse a new one takes its place. It's an evolving document.

The point here is not so much the specifics of the list, but the importance of a cull list and really spending time on it. It's the extra effort to reduce fluff and extra words that makes a difference.

Your editor can and should give you a list like this. If not, ask for it. But Heidi Cullinan telling you to pay attention to it is the golden message here.

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