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Pruning

by Cynthia Ruchti

If fascinates me that the Bible not only inspires and encourages writers, informs the character growth of the writer, but teaches writing techniques, too.

The edits for my May 2015 novel-As Waters Gone By-brought that thought into clear focus. As I worked through the notes my editor made, I noticed throw away words or overgrowth that needed to be trimmed. Getting rid of those extraneous words would reduce my word count, but every bit of overgrowth I clipped made the sentence or the scene stronger.

Overgrowth saps strength the tree needs to invest in the important reason for its existence-fruit.

John 15:2 (Common English Bible)–“He removes any of my branches that don’t produce fruit, and he trims any branch that produces fruit so that it will produce even more fruit.”

What fruit is a novelist looking for in words?

An emotional connection for the reader. Clarity of communication. Development of characters to a deeper level. A trim story that doesn’t get too leggy to bear the weight of fruit.

Said another way:

Emotional connection for readers. Clear communication. Deep character development. A lean, strong story that can handle fruit’s weight.

I eliminated twelve words in that paragraph. Did you sense their loss? Or did you understand the point at least as well if not better?

Some authors joke about their need to trim a manuscript by several thousand words, so they start by removing a, an, the, and, or… On this current edit, I caught myself pruning plenty of them that blocked the light, messed with the story’s rhythm, or served no clear purpose.

You too may want to become more ruthless as you prune. Horticulturalists tell us pruning is key to plant health and fruit-production. God tells us carefully pruning healthy branches enables the growth of even more fruit. What does that look like for a novelist?

Look carefully at each word. That’s right. Every word. That’s how an orchard manager approaches the task of pruning an apple tree. He or she looks at every branch. Is it necessary? Then it’s firewood.

Novelists, ask yourself:

• Does it move the story forward, compelling the reader to stay engaged? If not, prune it.
• Is it absolutely necessary? If not, prune it.
• Does the word enhance the rhythm, understanding, or pacing of the sentence? If not, prune it.
• Is it a personal author habit, rather than important? Prune it.
• Does it spotlight the important words? Or does it block them or throw shadows on them? Prune it.
• Is it cute, clever, or pretty, but worthless? Prune it.
• Does it explain what’s already been clearly expressed? Prune it.

An apple tree may look naked after a thorough pruning. But as the tree’s energies are directed toward fruit-producing growth, harvest proves pruning’s value.

Whether pruning the word the, an unwieldy sentence, or an entire scene, know that your efforts may well produce a story that reads like a fruit-rich orchard feels.

As Waters Gone ByCynthia Ruchti tells stories hemmed in Hope. Her novels, novellas, devotionals, nonfiction, and speaking for women’s events draw from 33 years writing and producing a 15 minute daily radio broadcast. Cynthia serves as ACFW’s professional relations liaison. She and her husband live in the heart of Wisconsin. Visit Cynthia at www.cynthiaruchti.com.

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2 Responses to Pruning

  1. Great post, Cynthia. It especially speaks to me because I like to edit word-by-word, pruning, as you so aptly describe it. Amazing how those prunings can tighten a story and curb a run-away word count. Well done!

  2. Mike Brown says:

    excellent commentary… my cowriter and I going through this exact stage of our WIP. Thanks for sharing