Recommended Reading on Cutting Excess Words

Whether you’re already published, about to begin the submission process with your first novel, or are still grinding out the words, you should be interested in word count.

Namely, in keeping unnecessary words to a minimum.

But how to do that?

Some time ago, Rachelle Gardner published an excellent post on that subject. In that post, she shares eight basic steps for trimming word count and tightening up your writing. Her list includes reducing back story and unnecessary adverbs (“ly” words).

What are the others? I don’t want to steal Rachelle’s thunder so will instead direct you to the full article, How to Cut Thousands of Words Without Shedding a Tear. The article is part three of a 3-part series on Strategies for Writers, so take a minute or two and give the other two articles a read, too.

Rachelle is an agent, editor, and literary coach, so she knows what she’s talking about. By the way, her blog is also well worth reading and subscribing to whether you plan on publishing independently, traditionally, or somewhere in between.

Write Your Novel From the Middle

The last two posts I’ve written have been centered around my rediscovery of writing. A search that actually began months ago, even before my encounter with creative silence. I won’t bore you with all of the history again, since I’ve written about all of it (including the creative silence) elsewhere on this blog. Read When You Find Yourself Becalmed and How to Get in Writing Shape After a Long Absence.

Part of my search happened to be reading two books on writing by James Scott Bell. Both have intrigued me since I first heard about them. Only lately, however, have I had the opportunity to read them.

The first is called The Art of War for Writers. Who wouldn’t wonder what a book like that is about? As it turns out, it’s not about writing war scenes. It’s a book of short tips, suggestions, and encouragements based on The Art of War, written by ancient Chinese General Sun Tsu. Most of the entries are less than two pages long. Some aren’t even a page long. But it’s a helpful and encouraging book and I urge you to get a copy if you don’t already have one.

The second book is Write Your Novel From the Middle. Yes, it’s another book on designing story, but it’s not just another book on designing story. It delves into basic story structure, but only to lay the foundation for the real meat of the book, which is uncovering your lead character’s arc. Or, as Bell puts it, discovering what your story is really all about.

Write Your Novel From The MiddleIn The Middle of Things

…Virtually all books on the [writing] craft approach it as another “plot” point. Something external happens that changes the course of the story. But what I detect is a character point, something internal, which has the added benefit of bonding audience and character on a deeper level.

Ordinarily, I don’t read books about how to write while I’m writing. It’s counterproductive.

But I did this time because I’d hit a wall with the story I was working on. I knew how I wanted the plot to unfold, but could not for the life of me figure out how to write the first act. Nothing was working. It was as simple as that.

In the process of thinking through the problem, I came across Write Your Novel From the Middle and thought, I need to read that book. I set aside one afternoon and read it cover to cover in about four hours—including taking notes. As I read, a door gradually creaked open. Through that widening crack, I could see not only the problem with the current work-in-progress but with a story I’ve finished a dozen times over the last twenty years but have never been happy with.

It’s All About What Happens to the Lead Character

In a character-driven story, [the character] looks at himself and wonders what kind of person he is. What is he becoming? If he continues the fight of Act 2, how will he be different? What will he have to do to overcome himself? Or how will he have to change in order to battle successfully?

The second type of look is more for plot-driven fiction. It’s where the character looks at himself and considers the odds against him. At this point the forces seem so vast that there is virtually no way to go on and not face certain death. That death can be professional, physical, or psychological.

These two basic thoughts are not mutually exclusive. For example, an action story may be given added heft by incorporating the first kind of reflection into the narrative. This happens in Lethal Weapon when Riggs bares his soul to Murtaugh, admitting that killing people is “the only thing I was ever good at.”

Rather than thinking of the turning point in the middle of the story as the second major turning point (which is what I usually do), Bell was telling me to look at it as a moment of truth, what he calls a Look in the Mirror Moment, for the lead character. It’s the moment at which the character is forced to look at himself in a mirror. What he sees has the potential to change the direction of the story.

More importantly, what he sees and his response to it is what the story is about.

Once you know what your character sees when he looks into the mirror, you can work backward to set up the circumstances and backstory that create the original condition. You can also work forward to the end of the story, when your character either changes or refuses to change. Those three points—the pre-story condition, the Mirror Moment, and the post story condition of the lead character—make up the Golden Triangle.

The real beauty of understanding how this character arc works is that you can use it at any stage in the writing process. That story in progress of mine? It’s at the perfect point to figure out the lead character’s Golden Triangle.

The same is also true for that twenty-year-old story or for the next story I work on.

It also works for every type of writer. Planner, pantser, or tweener. It doesn’t matter how you write or how little or much of your story you’ve written.

After reading the book, I sent an email to Mr. Bell thanking him for the book and asking for a guest post or permission to excerpt the book. He instead granted permission to glean a few gems from his original post on Write Your Novel From the Middle, which appeared at The Kill Zone in July 2013. You now know the gems I gleaned. Read the full post here. You won’t regret it.

Nor will your work in progress!

Software Review – LibreOffice

Indie Plot Twist Software Review LibreOfficeWhen Danielle and I sent out our year-end survey back in December, we asked you to tell us what you’d like to see this year. One of the things that was requested was reviews of word processing software with a special request to do software other than OpenOffice.

I like trying these kinds of things and I’m always interested in free stuff, so I thought I’d tackle this project.

The plan is to post a review the last Saturday of every month for which I have a review. It takes a couple of weeks at least to form a solid opinion of most software packages (though I did try one that took all of three days).

Today is the first of those posts.

I hope you’ll find it helpful.

Software Review LibreOffice


Software Review – LibreOffice

LibreOffice is a free word processing suite that’s based on the same core coding as the original Open Office. How LibreOffice and other “fork” software came into being is a complicated story of its own, but it can be summed up very easily.

When the company that first developed Open Office was sold, many people weren’t happy with the new owner. So they made use of the same basic code and developed software packages to meet their own needs and fit their own purposes. LibreOffice is one of the results. There are others and I hope to review those sometime in the future.


Why I Chose LibreOffice

I’ve been a user of Open Office for several years. While it’s in no way as versatile or feature-laden as Microsoft Word, it was more than adequate to my uses. I installed it on an older PC that didn’t have Word on it because I didn’t have the funds to buy Word at the time and because I really needed a computer I could use for writing. Open Office was the best choice at the time.

Open Office is still at the top of most lists of free alternatives to Microsoft Word.

LibreOffice is second on many of those lists. I already knew about Open Office, so when I started researching this series of articles, LibreOffice was the logical first choice.

A Few Basics

LibreOffice is a totally free word processing suite. It was designed and is continually being upgraded by developers and others around the world. Once you download the installation package, it’s yours to do with whatever you please. Even copy it and distribute it to others. If you’re of a more technical bent, you can even tinker with the code.

Like Open Office, LibreOffice is available for a number of platforms including Windows (XP to 10), Apple/Mac OSX, and Linux, to name just three. I tried it with Windows XP and Windows 8.

It contains all the components of Open Office and Word (writing, spreadsheet, presentation, drawing, math, and a basic database.) The focus of this review is on writing, since that’s what most of us are interested in, but if you’d like to read more, you can read more technical reviews here and here.

Four Basic Questions

Can you create Microsoft Word compatible documents? Yes. All you need to do is select “Save As” when you save a document created in LibreOffice. Click on the box highlighted in blue at the bottom of the dialogue box (circled in red) and select the version of Word you want to use, then click save.

If you prefer not having to make that choice every time, you can change the default setting to .doc by changing the preferences.

Can you open documents created in Microsoft Word? Yes and quite easily.

Can you use Microsoft Word to open documents created in this software? I opened LibreOffice documents in Microsoft Word and in Open Office without difficulty as long as the documents were saved with the .doc extension (see the first question and answer).

How easy is this software to learn and use? If you’ve used OpenOffice in the past, you’ll take to LibreOffice like a duck to water. Drop down menus, toolbars, and other options are pretty much the same, which isn’t surprising since both processors use the same base code.

If you’ve used any version of Microsoft Word, you’ll also find LibreOffice pretty easy to learn and use.

And if you have no experience with either OpenOffice or Microsoft Word, it’s my opinion that you’ll still be able to learn LibreOffice quickly because of the very sensible way in which everything is arranged and labeled.

What I Like

Overall Appearance

I don’t usually pay much attention to how software looks. What matters to me is that  it works.

But LibreOffice appeals to my artistic side. I just plain enjoy the way it looks!

The buttons are designed more like website icons than word processing icons and they’re not only arranged in a logical fashion, some of them are downright pretty.

Paragraph Styles Shown As Well as Told

LibreOffice has all of the same standard paragraph styles as Open Office and they are presented in the same location, at the left end of the second toolbar from the top. But when you click on the drop down Style menu, what you see is startlingly different. The styles are not only listed, but shown as examples. The last time I looked, Open Office presented the style options as a plain text list. This is much nicer and gives you a much better idea of what each style looks like.


Adding words to the LibreOffice dictionary is a single-click process instead of the usual double-click I’ve been doing with Open Office.

Word Count

One thing I always wished for with Open Office was a word count in the footer tool bar. Guess what? There is one with LibreOffice!

What I Don’t Like

For no longer than I’ve been using LibreOffice (about two months), I haven’t found much to dislike.

I suppose I’ll eventually find something I don’t like, but LibreOffice is now my default word processor on both of the PCs I use and I’ve yet to encounter problems.


Learning my way around LibreOffice was fast, easy, and fun. It’s easy to use and the arrangement of icons, menus, and features made sense to me immediately. Part of that may have been due to the fact that I’ve been using Open Office for a few years, but I don’t think it would be difficult to use even if you’ve never used a word processing suite before.

If you’re looking for a full service option to Microsoft Word and don’t want to use Open Office, you may have to look no further than LibreOffice.

Even if you like Open Office but want to try something better, give LibreOffice a look. You may never go back to either MS Word or Open Office.


1 Podcast EVERY Writer Should Hear

1 Podcast Every Writer Should Hear

How to Become a More Efficient and Productive Blogger

As the name implies, 7 Productivity Tips For Bloggers is written for and to bloggers. It’s part of a podcast series by ProBlogger’s Darren Rowse that began with 31 Days to Build a Better Blog and continues with regular releases designed to help bloggers blog better, more productively, and, yes, more profitably.

This episode is key for anyone who has a busy schedule and wants to get things done. Don’t disregard this podcast because it’s directed at bloggers. The principles apply just as well to writers as to bloggers.

If you want to get 2016 off to a great start, this podcast is a great first action.