How Do You Know What to Cut?

You just finished that first novel, or at least you thought you did. Now the work really begins. You revise, revise, and revise again. At some point you may even consider hiring an editor, before you lose your mind. 

How do you know what to cut? You put a lot of thought into those words. They all sound good and provide information to help the reader follow what’s going on.

Cutting comes down to two things.

  1.  Is it essential to the story?
  2.  Does it move the story forward?

I love Jerry Jenkins. We all have our favorite bloggers and teachers of the craft. Jerry Jenkins is probably my favorite. Why? Because he’s clear, concise, and easy to follow.  I’m using an example from one of his blogs to help you understand editing. I would encourage you to visit his sight. You won’t be disappointed.

Paige’s phone chirped, telling her she had a call. She slid her bag off her shoulder, opened it, pulled out her cell, hit the Accept Call button and put it to her ear.       

“This is Paige,” she said.

“Hey, Paige.”

She recognized her fiancé’s voice. “Jim, darling! Hello!”

“Where are you, Babe?”

“Just got to the parking garage.”

“No more problems with the car then?”

“Oh, the guy at the gas station said he thinks it needs a wheel alignment.”

“Good. We still on for tonight?”

“Looking forward to it, Sweetie.”

“Did you hear about Alyson?”

“No, what about her?”

“Cancer.”

“What?”

Here’s a good example of how that scene should be rendered:

Paige’s phone chirped. It was her fiancé, Jim, and he told her something about one of their best friends that made her forget where she was.

“Cancer?” she whispered, barely able to speak. “I didn’t even know Alyson was sick. Did you?”

We don’t need to be told that the chirp told her she had a call, that her phone is in her purse, that her purse is over her shoulder, that she has to open it to get her phone, push a button to take the call, identify herself to the caller, be informed who it is.  I think you’re getting the point.

This is a good example of dragging dialogue as well.  It’s not necessary and adds fluff without any real purpose. Don’t distract with minutia. Give the reader the adventure they signed up for when they chose to purchase your book. Take the reader with Paige when she says:

“I need to call her, Jim. I’ve got to cancel my meeting. And I don’t know about tonight…”

Something to think about.

-Jan R

How Do You Know What to Cut?

Underlying Elements Are Essential!

There are four main dramatic elements to your novel. You probably never thought about it, but if you did it right, they are there. If they’re missing, you need to revisit your work and make some adjustments.

That’s one of the nice things about writing. Nothing is set in stone, and when equipped with time and knowledge, you can change anything.

So back to the blog and the elements that I was referring to.

  1. Passion – yours not the Novels. Write something that you are passionate about. If you’re not passionate, it will come through. What’s important to you?  What are you trying to get across? What do you want to be the takeaway?
  2. Theme – what your reader takes away from reading your story.  Yes, the theme and passion can be the same thing and probably are in a great many cases. Examples of theme would be belief in yourself, or all things work for the good of those who serve the Lord. 
  3. Flaws – your character must have flaws. They don’t have to be exaggerated or grotesque but face it, nobody is perfect. Talk about a boring read. The flaw could be as simple as a lack of confidence or the inability to put the past behind them. The character doesn’t have confidence, so the theme would probably be, believe in yourself. Note how they can work hand in hand and build on each other.
  4.  Premise – What if a (flawed character) (encounters some problem) and had to (overcome the flaw) to (solve the problem). You know your story. Fill in the blanks. Does it make sense? Is it enthralling or boring?

One of the things the agent highlighted after rejecting my work, was I had a great premise. It was a silver lining to a dark cloud that sprung up after the initial shock of being rejected. And while I thought the passion and theme were there, my characters were not flawed, which means that my passion and theme were probably weak.

Something to think about.

-Jan R

Underlying Elements Are Essential!