Saturday, November 14, 2015

Cut Til It Bleeds

Editing is a painful process of pruning and shaping your manuscript. It's a time where the Care Bears are set to the side. Cover their eyes. You don't want them to see this. We're going to torture the manuscript. Sharpen your knives, it's time to cut til it bleeds.

I have been working on my first novel for over 3 years now. The editing and rewriting process has been more difficult than I ever thought it could be. I have learned so much along the way, but the only way to learn is to make mistakes. My editor has convinced me that I may need to do another round of edits. I wanted to strangle her for suggesting it, but in the end I know she is right. I don't want to write this book forever, but I want to make it as good as it possibly can be.


I first heard about layering in another blog post talking about writing and editing. It was like a supernova going off in my head yelling HEY LOOK AT THIS AWESOME THING! Now I had a word to describe my rewriting process. Each draft I have written has followed this process. It's like tiramisu, but each layer has blood dripping from the edges. Sometimes the tears of my enemies are mixed in.

Ideas that add depth and flavor to the narrative fill my head while writing. Many of them are for parts that have already been written. Rather than go back each time, I make a note of it and keep going. While rewriting, I use that opportunity to add those ideas like sprinkles on top of my sundae. The second and third drafts added over 5,000 words to the final word count. I had cut close to 5,000 words, but added over 10,000. Entire chapters were demolished using TNT, but others sprang up in their place. The word count overlords were not pleased. They demanded blood, gallons of it.

Deep Cuts

This last draft is almost done which has shaved around 3,000 words thus far. The chapter I am currently working on is filled with back story exposition that needs to feel the wrath of the knife. The main point of the story is important, but much of the back story isn't. As much as I love the back story in this chapter, it doesn't matter as much as the pacing challenge it creates. The story grinds like a rusty gear. It is important because it reveals a secret that was not known before. The scene as it is written doesn't work as well as I hoped it would. The secret still needs to get out, but I must find another way to do it.

One chapter I had written for the original manuscript introduced a new character that the main character would meet again later in the book. The character didn't add anything to the story other than some charming exchanges with the main character. Much of the information given in that chapter was redundant. Information that was given in three other places. I loved the character, but she had to die. Her name was Jinny Michelson. Remember her. She will forever remain lost within the terrible first draft.

The point is that you can't be afraid to cut and prune your story. If your story is better without a scene then carve it out. Find another way to include the important bacon bits. You don't need the greasy fat. It will choke the arteries of your story. Make it mean, lean, and cut until it bleeds. If you have to cut off whole body parts, so be it. Perhaps your novel doesn't need that 5th arm growing out of its ankle, or an eye in place of the belly button. Cut Cut Cut and cut some more. Appease the word count overlords with their gallon of blood.

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