Don’t Cut When You Should Be Whittling!

editing-tips-300x230I opened up my novel in Word and began yet another revision at the start of the year. I tell myself this is it, and I certainly hope so, however, I have made some pretty significant changes. So I may have to go back and look at it one or two more times, to make sure I followed all of the rules πŸ™‚

Why the changes, and especially this late in the game?  I went through my manuscript and cut about 20% the previous year. The sections cut were combersome and full of backstory at times. They were weighing the story down and bringing it to a stand still. At least that’s what I thought at the time.

Well we all know writing that brings your reader to a screeching halt is a no-no, so I decided to get rid of those scenes/chapters rather than fix them. From my perspective, they were uneccessary and I didn’t want to mess with them anymore. I was done.

Following those changes, I found myself less enthusiastic and lacking the drive to complete my work. The passion was gone. The last months of 2018 were a struggle for me. I just couldn’t make myself pick up the manuscript.

I’m all for rules and understand they are important. I have read extensively on how to write a novel, took online courses, and talked to people who have published work.  I listened carefully and took notes when I heard the same thing over and over.  If everyone was saying it, it had to have merit.

One rule that I followed caused my standstill, and to be honest, it may not have been the rule, but my over zealous attempt to follow the rule. Let’s go back to the 20% I cut. I actually chopped the first two chapters of the novel. Why? They were filled with backstory. Something I felt my reader needed at the time to be able to follow a pretty complicated plot.

The rule that caused my dilemma was don’t load the front end of the story with unecessary narrative and exposition.  While the information may be necessary, you don’t want to put your reader to sleep before they get to the good stuff, and if that isn’t enough of a reason, literary agents only ask for the first five pages in most cases. You don’t want to send them five pages of narrative and exposition. You want some action. You want the good parts on display from the beginning.

I got to the good stuff right away, but at what cost. I lost my enthusiasm and I made it harder for my readers to follow what was actually going on. They were missing some key information.

I talked to a friend a couple weeks ago who had proofread the manuscript for me prior to the cuts. She isn’t an editor, but she is a professional who enjoys reading and a very bright lady. I asked her specifically about those first two chapters.

I told her about the cuts, and my concerns with those chapters weighing the story down. Her response,  “I loved those chapters. They developed the connection between myself and the characters before they were thrown into the conflict. They grounded me and made it easier to follow the story.”

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAShe confirmed what was missing, and why I was having a hard time connecting with a novel that I once loved. Instead of cleaning up the first few chapters by making them more clear and concise, instead of adding a minor conflict or looking at a way to make those chapters more interesting, I totally wiped them out, leaving the novel lacking.

My focus today and the previous week has been reworking those first few chapters and whittling instead of cutting. I still need to get to the heart of the story as soon as possible, but I can’t short change the set-up to get there.

Something to think about. Comments are always welcome. I love hearing other perspectives.

-Jan R



Don’t Cut When You Should Be Whittling!

7 thoughts on “Don’t Cut When You Should Be Whittling!

  1. Allison White says:

    I can relate to the struggles of cutting chapters only to lose all enthusiasm. For one of my stories, I had overwritten so much that I was forced to cut entire subplots. The process of hacking up my story was discouraging and overwhelming, so I left it alone for a while. But maybe it’s time to return to it and start whittling. πŸ™‚

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I keep seeing advice to cut the first two (some say three) chapters of any novel, because these are “always” unnecessary at best and at worst full of the sort of “History of the Entire World Up Until Right Now” background. Supposedly, writers “always” start the story too soon, with the first two or three chapters being irrelevant and boring.

    The thing is, I personally know writers who do the opposite; if anything, they begin the first draft too late in the story, and then they have to add to the beginning of the book so the reader has some idea of who the protagonist is and why they’re doing what they’re doing.

    The beginning of a novel is the part most likely to have unnecessary backstory or boring scenes, but that doesn’t mean every manuscript does have that problem.

    “I still need to get to the heart of the story as soon as possible, but I can’t short change the set-up to get there.” Exactly. Without some context, some introduction to the viewpoint character and their situation, the reader has no reason to care what happens in the story. Besides, for all the “experts” claiming that literally no reader ever wants to read much narration/description/worldbuilding detail, there are some who love that sort of thing.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I know your pain. An Author who works for a publishing house, held a writers retreat my husband purchased a days retreat for our anniversary; as a gift. It was frightening, exhilarating and eye opening. During the day there was a slot where the publisher and editor would give you some time, advice or your project a read. The outcome was leave this alone! Grab the free trial of scrivner so you can organise and stop going over and over the first third of your work. Move on. If you wait for perfection you will never get there. If you keep at it, you will sanitize it. Then when it is guideline perfect; your voice will be lost. The worst thing is not failing to be perfect …it is succeeding to produce work that is unremarkable. 😐 Good luck for this year could be ours 😊

    Liked by 1 person

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