At one point, I found myself trying to trim a chapter by about a thousand words. It was one of those chapters that had basically turned into a huge info dump. It ran way too long, and while several interesting things were imparted, it happened in an extremely uninteresting way.
For my first pass, I went sentence by sentence, trimming the fat, tightening the loose ends, dropping excessive metaphors like hot potatoes, all that stuff. I ended up cutting about a hundred words. Which is great! That probably needed to happen anyway.
But it was still too long, and too tedious. So I started looking at a higher, strategic level, paragraph by paragraph, and questioned the necessity of each one. I discovered, unfortunately, that there was quite a bit that I really didn’t need.
For instance, at the end of the chapter, I spent a couple of hundred words explaining how door locks worked. Futuristic technology that my protagonists weren’t familiar with. I was happy with my world-building here. One of the prevalent aspects of this technology was the use of hand gestures to make things happen. Not an earth-shattering concept, but it was enough of a defining feature that I used it to add color to the world.
The door locks were no different. You manipulated them via hand gestures. Waving at them, poking them to lock and unlock, et cetera. It’s in my notes. It’s part of my canon. This is technology that existed in-universe, and that my protagonists would have to deal with.
But then, as I was looking for things to cut, I realized that the reader doesn’t need to care about door locks. The manner in which they functioned played zero part in the rest of the story. As satisfied as I was that I had this detail fully fleshed out and workable, there was no reason for the detail in the first place.
A part of me hated to cut it, because it really was several hundred words that I’d spent time on. These weren’t words that I could put elsewhere; I was cutting them out entirely. Time and effort, gone.
But I cut the section. Replaced it with seven or eight words: “So-and-so showed them how the locks worked.” It was like cutting off a finger.
This is why cutting things out can be as hard as creating them in the first place. Creating these things takes time and effort; cutting them invalidates that time and effort. All that’s left is what experience might be gained from the endeavor.
And, hopefully, a better story.