Wednesday, May 16, 2018

What To Cut And What To Lose From Your Story

I was talking with a client a couple of days ago and we were venting about some recent books we had read. Other than the normal, "How did this even get past an editorial board?" discussions, one of the biggest things we looked at were the number of books with so much useless information included. So, that led to the question: what do cut and what to keep?

I get that when we are writing, our brains start to take over and we really don't "think" about the words going on to those pages. At the time we are writing those scenes, everything seems relevant. We know that our readers will need all of that information either at that exact moment, or even when we get to a later scene. Unfortunately, 90% of the time, that is not the case. Now, the time you spent writing those scenes and the time it will take for the reader to get through that useless scene is for nothing.

One of the first rules I follow when it comes to looking at the need for a scene is simply, "Does it advance the storyline." Does the inclusion of that scene, that character, that segment move the plot any further? In many cases, that scene only sets a tone or is a vehicle to get the characters from one scene to the next.

I think a great example of this is something one of my writers faced while writing her last book. She had a great well written scene with the hero and heroine in a carriage driving out to a summer house. In the end, however, we felt the story was just slow right there. The answer was simple. Cut the scene. The dialogue the shared in the carriage, the introspection and all of that other "stuff" was cut down to one paragraph at the summer house. Something to the effect of "The three hour carriage ride was fantastic. They talked about their goals and dreams. They shared thoughts about the latest politics..." I think you get the idea.

If you think about it, this all comes down to word economy. Those 2000 words you used to describe that carriage ride can easily be used for more worthy things later in the story.

So, ask yourself today. Does the story need that scene, or is it something you just need to see in your head as an author to get the characters to their next destination?

1 comment:

  1. The novel that I wrote had a 'wonderful' opening scene. I was positive I knocked it out of the park. It was a prologue of about 20 pages. It zigged and zagged and took the reader on a glorious ride. Just thinking about it gives me chills.

    I presented my soon-to-be award winning prologue to two writer groups. A total of 15 incredibly talented people. All of them said the same thing - It did not advance the story. It fell flat.

    A year later when my editor and I finished, my 'wonderful' prologue was nowhere to be seen. Killing our darlings is common in our world.

    Where's my Kleenex?