The Cutting Room Floor

My writing is a masterpiece, much like the mug I painted below. I am an artist of many talents. But seriously, after finally finishing the novel that has been in our heads for months, as writers we are rightly proud of our work. But that doesn’t mean it is perfect, in fact, there is still a lot of work to do. We have written the words beautifully and put them into space, like painting my octopus mug. But in order to become beautiful, they must go through the kiln of editing. Burn away the extra words, and awkward phrasing. That is when they really shine (And become readable).

unnamed                     unnamed

Before the Kiln                                                            The finished Product!

I, literally, just finished typing that last word of my novel. (And literally is used correctly here.) I had started doing some light editing on my first few chapters when my hands refused to type anymore. But now it is time to start editing, full steam ahead! As my novel is currently, 106,298 words, I will be doing some major cutting to try to fit into the standard YA word count. If you want to know more about A Sparkle of Blue (and potentially become a beta reader) check this out.

There are many sections I already know I am going to cut, it is just a matter of starting draft 2. But  I am positive I can condense other areas that are not as obviously awful. If you can’t tell, I tend to be extremely wordy and verbose and longwinded. Which I assure you, is nothing like how I am in person. Or maybe it is, but no one has ever told me so. With this topic firmly in mind, I have included my personal criteria for cutting scenes and words from my novel. If they help you out, great!

What to cut entirely:

  1. Things you know are boring: I almost fell asleep at my keyboard a few times during typing up my novel. If I can’t even type my original words without dying, then no one will want to read them! For example, I have a long scene in the beginning where my main character is reading about the culture she is about to enter. It is basically a Wikipedia article for my moon colony. (Yes, I am adequately embarrassed, you do not need to throw tomatoes.) I could have slammed my head onto the keyboard and wrote a better scene. Even when typing it out, I changed the font to orange with a huge note reading CUT IN DRAFT TWO!

 

But I am glad I wrote it. Because it helped me get a feel of my created world. It helped me cement some ideas and make sure that they made sense. For example, my dome structure and what the population demographics were. So basically instead of planning it out like a real author in a separate area, I just wrote it all for my main character to read. I will be eager to hit the delete button on that section, but the information itself is valuable and I may interject small portions of it in other areas. I personally do not think that any writing is ever wasted. Just call it world building, or character building as long as you delete it. Your readers will thank you.

  1. Things that add nothing to the story: I have an entire scene where my main character is in class and taking notes on computer science. Does she ever use it? No. Did I think she may when I first started writing? Yes. My story changed dramatically from my first notebook to my last. I basically threw my entire outline out the window. Admittedly, my outline was super vague. (Get kidnapped, meet aliens, save the world) I cannot wait to delete that boring section where she is sitting on her laptop trying to write a paper for a class. A novel should be exciting, not like real life. Make sure you are leaving out the parts that people already live. I have been to class, I know it is boring, that is why I read action adventure. So thrill me!

Another main idea that falls under this category is failed foreshadowing. As with most writers, my story changed as the characters took over. I added a few people I didn’t think would matter who ended up being the difference between life and death. The ideas that I tried to cleverly set up in the beginning no longer make sense, as much as I hate to cut them it is necessary.

The last point here, is cut clues that are too obvious. Leave some mystery! Check back over your story and make sure you are not spelling out for readers what they should be discovering. I personally find this really difficult and will rely on the advice of my beta readers when I find some. It is impossible to check for this in your own writing because you know what is going to happen, so make sure you have a good friend or two.

  1. Anything that makes you physically cringe: Oh man. My dialogue. I cannot wait to revise about half of what my characters say. Mostly delete and completely rewrite though. A really cringe-worthy example is any scene where my characters have to be even halfway emotional. I have a heart of stone, no emotion ever leaves me, and unfortunately that tends to reflect on my characters. I can’t tell if it is so raw it embarrasses me or if it is so awful it embarrasses me. (We all know it is the latter, but I will let the beta readers tell me that.) I will delete anything that makes my non-robot characters sound robotic and devoid of emotion. Who knows, it may even help me!

 

Another thing that I think fits this category is anything you would not want your best friend/sister/any living human being to read. If the entire goal is to be read, then if something is so strange that even you can’t stomach it, chances are others won’t enjoy it as well. As readers, we understand what people like, but  as writers we try to make it our own. Just make sure that you are comfortable with your story, and it matches your dream. Do not write for anyone else.

  1. Clichés: I know I may get some hate here, as this trend is really popular in YA novel right now, but I HATE love triangles. Save the world, don’t focus on who likes who! Come on people, have some perspective. This is one of the many clichés I have avoided in my writing. Never write anything that has been done before. (Except for fanfiction, but that is a special case.) If a reader has read this exact same plot, chances are he or she will put the book away halfway through. Personally, when I read, I relish unique ideas and presentation. I don’t know if anyone has read Illuminae by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff, but it is awesome. The book is pretty thick but included drawings, and sometimes the words are arranged artistically. Just turning the page is an adventure in itself! This was why I bought the book without even reading what it was about. I totally judged the book by its cover and readers will too. Make sure you keep them entertained. To be honest, my metaphor with the kiln in the beginning is a bit of a cliche. But I have pictures, and I am proud of my mug, so there!

This next section is what will most likely be the bulk of my editing experience. I lot of my ideas are good and I genuinely like them, but the presentation could be fixed. I can make it more clear, and hopefully, make it so others can actually understand what I am trying to show them.

What to save and rewrite:

  1. The scenes that made you cringe: Surprisingly, I believe these can be saved. It may take a lot of effort and time, maybe a few tears as well. But there is a reason you breathed them into being. While the original effort may be crap, the ideas are important. So my character cries at weird moments because I am trying to relate to normal human beings and not be the robot that I am. While I hate that and it makes me want to punch her, I need to talk with people I trust and see what their take is. Yea, it is weird that she cries when terrified, but where she cries after killing someone for the first time that makes sense. As long as I can see a point to my scenes, they won’t feel so cringy. At least that is what I hope.

 

  1. Explanations that are too wordy: AKA everything I write. In order to cut down on word count, I will need to become more concise. To help with this, I have recently learned that adverbs are a no-no and many adjectives could be taken away. I have a love affair with adverbs. As soon as I learned that they are frowned upon my typing moved 50% quicker because I quit typing them. Another thing to delete is words telling the reader how fast something is happening. I realize I do this too much during my action scenes. When I am rereading, they just get in the way and mess up the flow. My story will be so much better without them and I can probably cut out 2,000 words or so. Seriously, right now, I use quickly 87 times. And that is a double whammy! An adverb and measures time!

 

Another aspect of wordiness manifests itself in long blocks of words making the page more black than white. My advice is break things up to keep the reader interested. If you have a long block of prose, make sure to throw in some dialogue or thoughts. If there is too much wordy explanation, try to divide the info into smaller pieces and slid it in other areas.

 

 

  1. Telling and not showing: This is one of my many major problems with my novel currently. I need to take all the sections that I have large blocks and try to show my words. That will make it flow better and sound like a real novel, not just 100,000 words of dribble. My ultimate goal is for someone to read it and be like, “Wow, that chimpanzee was really talented!” Instead of, “Has this thing ever touched a keyboard before?”

This last section is where hopes and dreams come to die. I fell into the popular belief that my first draft would be great. That maybe I would have to cut down a few run on sentences, and cut out some ideas, but all in all, it would be fantastic.  A best seller in no time. Sure there will be some ideas that stick around from draft to draft. So this is my list to help you know what to save without changing a thing.

What is already perfect:

  1. Nothing

Is that too harsh? Did that kill your dreams a little right there? Don’t worry, mine are already dead. But seriously, everything can be improved upon. Don’t become so blinded by a scene you love to think that nothing can be changed. If you are absolutely sure. And if you say, “Bre, this scene is God’s gift to humanity. It is written in gold ink and will move anyone who reads it to tears with how beautiful it is.” Then I would urge you to read it through one more time. There may be one little thing that could make it better. And that is all we can really do in this world. Strive to become the best version of ourselves.

Do you have any editing tips for me as I begin this journey? What works best for you?

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12 thoughts on “The Cutting Room Floor”

  1. I love this post, thank you. Likewise, I don’t think any words are wasted, even if they are immediately deleted, because they were needed for you to find the right ones. You’ll notice I didn’t use the word ‘journey’ there. 🙂 In terms of editing, I love cutting word count down to its absolute minimum. I find it so cathartic to create meaning, often more, from far fewer words.

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      1. Telling is always good for humour, I think. Gives you a chance to throw in a curve-ball out of nowhere. Tonight I wrote a scene where the main character has had a pretty awful day and is sleeping in an abandoned supermarket, but thinks ‘well, at least I still have a job.

        Derek fires me in the morning…’

        Not saying that’s any good or funny, but you get my point!

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      2. Yea! That makes a lot of sense! This is my first time writing something so large so all your tips are definitely going into my treasure chest. Maybe the distinction is if you are taking the easy way out, you should be showing. Because that makes sure you actually thought aboutit

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      3. Yeah. To be honest I spent about a year getting bogged down by rules when obviously, all rules are stupid, some are just more stupid than others.

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  2. While I’d argue that typing “finis,” then going back to the top and immediately begin the rewrite is a little premature (at least a few weeks ought to pass) you’re absolutely right about the need to view everything you’ve just done with a suspicious eye. (That’s why letting at least a few weeks go by is a good idea. You can come back with a fresher perspective.) Re-read, and it should help you see what works, what doesn’t, and most importantly, what the story is “about.” Not the plot, not what goes on, but the theme. And then, one of the most important things to cut, is anything that doesn’t advance the story. In my last project I had a wonderful chapter, a duel between the squire and the pirate. I don’t think I have ever written better action. But on re-reading I realized that the squire was the wrong person to do it. It was too “deus ex machina.” The kid who was at the center of the story needed to best the villain, and that would be very different. So the best action scene I’ve ever written is on the “cutting room floor.”

    Figure out the story, then take out EVERYTHING that doesn’t advance it. Be merciless.

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