What Do You Cut?

The writing process, writing advice, and updates on your work in progress
Margo
Posts: 1712
Joined: April 5th, 2010, 11:21 am
Contact:

What Do You Cut?

Post by Margo » August 30th, 2010, 11:04 am

As word count is a recent topic, and I've read (and experienced personally) that overshooting word count is more common than coming in too short, I thought it might be useful for people to share what they find themselves cutting when their short story or novel is too long.

In both shorts and novels, I find most of my cuts come out of description. I'm a big believer in the idea that setting should be a character and that descriptive detail (setting and otherwise) should say something about the POV character. If I find description that doesn't fit those ideas, I cut it. I'm also more aware of description in the books I'm reading. I discovered myself skipping pages when it came to pointless description.

In shorts, I find the most fertile cutting ground to be secondary characters. That's sometimes a good place in novels as well. Often, secondary characters can be combined so there aren't so many of them cluttering up a scene and confusing a reader with too many names and description.
Urban fantasy, epic fantasy, and hot Norse elves. http://margolerwill.blogspot.com/

User avatar
polymath
Posts: 1821
Joined: December 8th, 2009, 11:22 am
Location: Babel
Contact:

Re: What Do You Cut?

Post by polymath » August 30th, 2010, 11:31 am

SPICE, setting, plot, idea, character, event, if it's irrelevant to the main dramatic complication, I rethink, rewrite, recast, conflate, excise. Then I can see what's missing. I like to reach the apex of the narrative arch.

The narrative arch resembles the St. Louis Arch. It is a graphic representation of the meeting of a writer's creative vision and a reader's creative vision. The left leg is a writer's. The right leg is a reader's. Sparse writers, who leave interpretation up to readers, meet point falls on the writer's side of the apex. Effuse writer's, who leave far less open to interpretation, fall on the reader's side of the apex. Hemingway and Vonnegut and Tart and Proulx fall in the former category. Evanovich and Meyer and Heinlein and Card fall in the latter. I believe struggling for debut authors should shoot for the apex. Rowling and Tolkien fit in that category. The majority of projects in progress I evaluate don't meet up due to a lack of appreciation for readers' creative vision, either shy of the mark or overshot.
Spread the love of written word.

User avatar
sldwyer
Posts: 41
Joined: August 17th, 2010, 11:56 am
Contact:

Re: What Do You Cut?

Post by sldwyer » August 30th, 2010, 12:22 pm

Cutting a novel is as personal as the writer. I usually use my own method of deciding on what to cut... if it doesn't add action, explain a scene, or is relevant to the plot I take it out. My first book, I took out over 100 pages and it read so much better - the story moved forward without a lot of extraneous pages.

Secondary characters are the same...if they don't move the story forward or reveal an important fact, then it is time to slice and dice.

Good luck.

User avatar
dios4vida
Posts: 1119
Joined: February 22nd, 2010, 4:08 pm
Location: Tucson, Arizona, USA
Contact:

Re: What Do You Cut?

Post by dios4vida » August 30th, 2010, 12:50 pm

Most cuts come easily for me because I tend to repeat myself in first drafts. I'll describe a certain scene or my character's musings two or three times without noticing it the first time. Once I cut all the repetitiveness my mss read much, much better.
Brenda :)

Inspiration isn't about the muse. Inspiration is working until something clicks. ~Brandon Sanderson

beeboo15
Posts: 80
Joined: August 18th, 2010, 2:38 pm
Contact:

Re: What Do You Cut?

Post by beeboo15 » August 30th, 2010, 1:41 pm

Typically, I try to write very tightly, so most often I come in under wordcount. When I do have to cut, it's all about "need to have" versus "nice to have". If it doesn't move the plot or develop characters, then I have to make a choice which "nice to have" pieces get cut.

User avatar
Quill
Posts: 1059
Joined: March 17th, 2010, 9:20 pm
Location: Arizona
Contact:

Re: What Do You Cut?

Post by Quill » August 30th, 2010, 5:22 pm

I don't usually write long, I write short. Therefore I'm more likely to be looking for ways to meaningfully add.

According to Stephen King, when it comes to revision there are taker-outers and putter-inners. I'm one of the latter.

stephmcgee
Posts: 210
Joined: August 16th, 2010, 12:44 pm
Contact:

Re: What Do You Cut?

Post by stephmcgee » August 30th, 2010, 6:13 pm

As I've embarked on this whole revision journey, I've begun to develop a process. In trying to save a previous manuscript, I set about outlining the first draft in detail. (I've shared my outline process here and on my own blog.) The places to cut became everywhere that I found myself writing in the event category of a scene's breakdown "transitional fluff" or "transitional crap" or something along those lines. If there was a tiny nugget of information that was needed in all that got cut, it got highlighted for moving to a different scene.

I finished reading Brandon Mull's fifth Fablehaven book the other day and I think it's a great example of cutting the unnecessary. In the latter portion of the book the characters are moving all over the globe, all over the US. Mull never showed us the getting there. The characters were simply there, with a brief mention of them driving for two days straight, or flying overnight, etc. He skipped mundane to get to the out-of-the-ordinary action.

Margo
Posts: 1712
Joined: April 5th, 2010, 11:21 am
Contact:

Re: What Do You Cut?

Post by Margo » August 30th, 2010, 6:40 pm

stephmcgee wrote:I finished reading Brandon Mull's fifth Fablehaven book the other day and I think it's a great example of cutting the unnecessary. In the latter portion of the book the characters are moving all over the globe, all over the US. Mull never showed us the getting there. The characters were simply there, with a brief mention of them driving for two days straight, or flying overnight, etc. He skipped mundane to get to the out-of-the-ordinary action.
That's an excellent place to look, now that you mention it. Travel scenes, driving scenes, usually with the POV character by himself. Coffee-drinking scenes are also good places to look (stole that one from Donald Maass). These are pretty broad generalities, of course, but still good places to look. Is there really anything going on in those scenes or is it just the mechanics of getting someone from Point A to Point B, and excuse for exposition or backstory, perhaps? And, of course, a coffee-drinking scene with two people having a tense conversation laden with subtext might not be a bad thing. Reading about a character brewing coffee, because she likes coffee, is...not that interesting. Even in a bestseller, it's not that interesting. I won't mention who I'm thinking of.
Urban fantasy, epic fantasy, and hot Norse elves. http://margolerwill.blogspot.com/

stephmcgee
Posts: 210
Joined: August 16th, 2010, 12:44 pm
Contact:

Re: What Do You Cut?

Post by stephmcgee » August 30th, 2010, 6:47 pm

Margo wrote:
stephmcgee wrote:I finished reading Brandon Mull's fifth Fablehaven book the other day and I think it's a great example of cutting the unnecessary. In the latter portion of the book the characters are moving all over the globe, all over the US. Mull never showed us the getting there. The characters were simply there, with a brief mention of them driving for two days straight, or flying overnight, etc. He skipped mundane to get to the out-of-the-ordinary action.
That's an excellent place to look, now that you mention it. Travel scenes, driving scenes, usually with the POV character by himself. Coffee-drinking scenes are also good places to look (stole that one from Donald Maass). These are pretty broad generalities, of course, but still good places to look. Is there really anything going on in those scenes or is it just the mechanics of getting someone from Point A to Point B, and excuse for exposition or backstory, perhaps? And, of course, a coffee-drinking scene with two people having a tense conversation laden with subtext might not be a bad thing. Reading about a character brewing coffee, because she likes coffee, is...not that interesting. Even in a bestseller, it's not that interesting. I won't mention who I'm thinking of.
Yeah. There are a lot of places like that to cut. Sometimes, like you said, it can be interesting. If there's a reason for it and it adds to the character development, the tension, moves the plot etc.

We don't necessarily need to see the mechanics of moving from A to B. At least, not always.

User avatar
cheekychook
Posts: 685
Joined: May 26th, 2010, 8:35 pm
Contact:

Re: What Do You Cut?

Post by cheekychook » August 31st, 2010, 1:12 am

Most often I cut the little extra words that just kinda sneak in...words like "that" and "just" which kinda snuck into this sentence, just like that. (Makes you wonder how the title "He's JUST not THAT into you" ever made it off a desk...but I digress.)

When I write a first draft I let it all tumble out---if I have two adjectives to describe something I'll put them both in, knowing I'll go back and keep the better of the two when I edit---I don't ever want to pause to choose one while I'm in the midst of writing because that will break my flow AND, if I don't put them both down, I'll surely reread and kick myself for not putting the other one down when I thought of it, because I will no longer remember what it was AND I'll be convinced it was probably the better of the two.

Since I write with a lot of detail, I always run long, which means it's not hard to cut out a bit without losing anything story-wise. I don't tend toward fluff, so content-wise there's not too much I delete. I have cut 25,000 words from my WIP and not deleted a single scene or plot point.

A lot of cuts come from dialogue. When I write the dialogue it's very true to the way people speak in real life---which is good in term of realism, but not in terms of word count or "tightness". Real people are babbly, they repeat themselves, they pause a lot, they say "What?" a lot---I'll put all of that into a first draft of a conversation then tweak it down when editing. It amazes me how many words you can take out of a conversation when you're trying--and not change the meaning or depth of the conversation. I took a few screenwriting courses in college. In once class the first assignment was to eavesdrop on a conversation and transcribe it. Mid semester there was an assignment to transcribe a second conversation and write an original conversation---then the class was supposed to see if they could tell which was which when they were read aloud. It was fun (mandatory eavesdropping? what's not to like?) and very eye-opening.

Other things that can often go are unnecessary details about what a character's doing---to go back to the brewing coffee example, it might be relevant that the character is brewing coffee, but you certainly don't need to know that she walked to the counter, reached to the cupboard, extracted the box of filters, withdrew one from the package, shook it to unfold it, then tucked it into the machine. Sometimes you need to step back and assume the reader will know what is entailed without you telling every microdetail...at least I need to do that.

Editing other people's work in my critique group has clearly illustrated how every writer has different types of things that need to be cut. For some it's dialogue tags, for other it's overuse of adverbs, for many it's having every character in a scene smiling too much. I think the most important thing, when cutting your own work, is to set it aside for a bit between edits. For me, doing that is nightmarish---it's like sitting me next to a full roll of bubble wrap and telling me not to poke at it---but, when I go back to my work with fresh eyes and can really see what's deletable it's just as satisfying as finally being allowed to pop a row or two of bubbles. Well, maybe not quite as satisfying, but still good.
Image
http://www.karenstivali.com

Passionate Plume 1st Place Winner 2012 - ALWAYS YOU
Published with Ellora's Cave, Turquoise Morning Press & Samhain Publishing

User avatar
Lillian Grant
Posts: 20
Joined: August 24th, 2010, 2:23 am
Location: Adelaide South Australia
Contact:

Re: What Do You Cut?

Post by Lillian Grant » August 31st, 2010, 3:58 am

Quill wrote:I don't usually write long, I write short. Therefore I'm more likely to be looking for ways to meaningfully add.

According to Stephen King, when it comes to revision there are taker-outers and putter-inners. I'm one of the latter.

Same with me. My latest masterpiece started at 50K and, with additions, is now complete at 73K. Still probably too short but I'm loathe to add words for the sake of it.

jkmcdonnell
Posts: 84
Joined: January 14th, 2010, 10:23 pm
Contact:

Re: What Do You Cut?

Post by jkmcdonnell » August 31st, 2010, 7:09 am

cheekychook wrote:Most often I cut the little extra words that just kinda sneak in...words like "that" and "just" which kinda snuck into this sentence, just like that. (Makes you wonder how the title "He's JUST not THAT into you" ever made it off a desk...but I digress.)
I guess 'HE'S NOT INTO YOU' might've come off a little harsh.

Sommer Leigh
Moderator
Posts: 1624
Joined: April 2nd, 2010, 11:07 pm
Location: Omaha, NE
Contact:

Re: What Do You Cut?

Post by Sommer Leigh » August 31st, 2010, 8:50 am

cheekychook wrote:Most often I cut the little extra words that just kinda sneak in...words like "that" and "just" which kinda snuck into this sentence, just like that. (Makes you wonder how the title "He's JUST not THAT into you" ever made it off a desk...but I digress.)

When I write a first draft I let it all tumble out---if I have two adjectives to describe something I'll put them both in, knowing I'll go back and keep the better of the two when I edit---I don't ever want to pause to choose one while I'm in the midst of writing because that will break my flow AND, if I don't put them both down, I'll surely reread and kick myself for not putting the other one down when I thought of it, because I will no longer remember what it was AND I'll be convinced it was probably the better of the two.

Since I write with a lot of detail, I always run long, which means it's not hard to cut out a bit without losing anything story-wise. I don't tend toward fluff, so content-wise there's not too much I delete. I have cut 25,000 words from my WIP and not deleted a single scene or plot point.
I write long too and then go back and remove the excess so that what is left is pretty tight. I don't mind the writing long because I really like to edit. It is comforting and one of my favorite parts of writing. The first draft might be ok, but then you cut and cut and edit and mash things down and at the end you're like, "Wow, did I write that? That's not bad."

When I write, I tend to write a couple chapters then go back and read and edit and then write a few more chapters, then go back to chapter 1 and read and edit...most of what gets cut are extra words, unnecessary descriptions, conversations I found work better in another scene, etc. When I am cracking my knuckles and getting down and dirty with the cutting, the first place I start is usually the middle. Not with any particular thing in the middle, it just happens to be where I personally run long. My middles tend to have a lot of "getting there" descriptions. I don't know why the beginning and end are not plagued with them as much as the middle.
May the word counts be ever in your favor. http://www.sommerleigh.com
Be nice, or I get out the Tesla cannon.

Margo
Posts: 1712
Joined: April 5th, 2010, 11:21 am
Contact:

Re: What Do You Cut?

Post by Margo » August 31st, 2010, 12:48 pm

Quill wrote:I don't usually write long, I write short. Therefore I'm more likely to be looking for ways to meaningfully add.

According to Stephen King, when it comes to revision there are taker-outers and putter-inners. I'm one of the latter.

Yeah, both definitely exist. My experience is that running long is a little more common early on in a writer's development and with certain genres, like fantasy, probably because there's so much world-building and original cultural detail to establish. I can kinda use the fantasy excuse, but truthfully I go long no matter what the genre. I just don't go as long anymore, and I cut with much less sentimental attachment to what I've written.
Urban fantasy, epic fantasy, and hot Norse elves. http://margolerwill.blogspot.com/

User avatar
Emerald_Resonance
Posts: 13
Joined: August 28th, 2010, 12:23 pm
Location: Denver, CO
Contact:

Re: What Do You Cut?

Post by Emerald_Resonance » September 1st, 2010, 7:53 pm

I've discovered a new way of finding things to cut: read your work to someone who doesn't have an endless amount of patience. I have been reading my current WIP aloud to a friend of mine, and whenever I sense her getting bored, I find myself skipping chapters, saying, "I'll just tell you what happened in this one so we can get on to the other stuff." Voila. I now know which chapters I'm going to shorten (or even cut altogether).

I also second what has been said about cutting the "coffee-drinking scenes" where the POV character is all by himself. I've found with the aforementioned reader (er... listener) that she is far more interesting in a long dialogue scene than in a short introspective scene. Dialogue is, by nature, a kind of conflict. Introspection, while it can be good, so often has the sense of going nowhere.

Post Reply

Who is online

Users browsing this forum: Google [Bot] and 3 guests