Enhancement Reduction: What Trimming Extra Words Does For Your Flow

For the last month or so, I’ve been working closely with a talented writer on his first completed novel. It’s been a pleasure to work on, as I see legitimate writing talent and a novel with as much potential as any I’ve been blessed to edit. But with any piece of writing, a good editor can come in quite handy, as I say ad nauseam. I wanted to show the before and after treatment to the opening of his seventh chapter. I think you’ll see what a little tweaking and streamlining—we cut a mere 16 words—can do.

We’ve taken an already good paragraph and enhanced the flow, which gives me endless pleasure. Few things satisfy me as much as getting into a good piece of writing, cutting the clutter and bringing its essence to the fore.

 

Before – 127 Words

The man pulled the door open and started up the stairs.  He noticed the smell of old carpet, mold, mildew, vomit, and urine.  Above the creak of the boards he could hear a window air conditioning unit somewhere thumping and banging, trying to keep up with the oppressive heat and humidity from outside that also permeated the stairwell.  Climbing the steps with a cane, the man used the railing for extra support, making a face at the greasy feel of the metal railing.  The floor, with constant squeaks and moans, kept track of his upward progress.  Sweat quickly started soaking through his shirt, already stained with the signs of travel.  He could feel rivulets of sweat running down his sides and down the middle of his back. 

 

After – 111 Words

The man pulled the door open and started up the stairs.  He could smell old carpet, mold, vomit, and urine.  Above the creak of the boards, he could hear a window air conditioning unit thumping and banging, trying to keep up with the oppressive heat and humidity that also permeated the stairwell.  A cane in his left hand, the man clutched the railing with his right, making a face at the greasy feel of the metal.  The stairs, with constant squeaks and moans, kept track of his progress.  Sweat began soaking through his shirt, already stained with signs of travel.  Rivulets ran down his sides and the middle of his back. 

 

What do you think? Trimming those hedges—a little proofreading here, a little copy editing there—can really do wonders, no?

- Joe