Tuesday, June 26, 2012

An exercise in cutting

For my latest revision of Project Demo, I was advised to cut it by a third.

A third! Okay, I always knew it was way too long at almost 90,000 words, but 60K is svelte! Most YA novels are between 55-90,000, so there's nothing inherently wrong with 90K. Except the longer novels tend to be detailed historical fiction, or fantasy epics with complex world-building. Not edgy, contemporary novels with a hint of magic. So I think my beta reader's right. A Courtney Summers' length novel would make much more sense. But that's a serious diet.

I've lost 7500 in the past few months from shifting around my plot. But that was the easy bit--cutting whole scenes! Now it gets tricky. Here's what I think comes next:

1. Cutting scenes, themes, arcs

Yes, I know I already did that. But I think I can do more. I have a lovely scene with the main character's mother that never really gets mentioned again. Cut. I have a party scene I adore, but I think I can take some of the important moments in that scene and weave them into a different scene. Cut. Every scene in the novel has to be carrying its weight in terms of character and story development. I'm after losing 22.5K more, so if there are any duplicate scenes (ie, multiple scenes that show my character's relationship with her mother), they have to go.

I spent this past weekend in Switzerland with my friend and fellow blogger Fiction Forge (well, yes, there ARE advantages to living in Europe, including no jet lag and 1.5 hour plane rides to Switzerland). FF was good enough to read through my entire outline with a metaphorical pair of scissors. And she was ruthless! But that was exactly what I needed.

We sat on her balcony with glasses of wine, a view of the distant mountains in the setting sun, and hacked apart my plot. I've had worse evenings.

2. Delete flashbacks

Does the reader really need to know what happened twelve years ago that shaped my main character into the person she is? If it's not absolutely relevant to the plot, it needs to go. If it is, I need to weave it into a bit of conversation.

3. Delete "time passing" scenes

You know how they do "time passing" scenes in the movies, with some fun music, maybe some dancing, jumping from scene to scene to scene, to show characters falling in love? Or training? Or growing up? Because Project Demo takes place over a year, I've included a number of those scenes in written form. They're just padding, they also have to go.

4. Start scenes later, end them earlier

For example, I don't need to show my character walking to a door before she opens it and begins the scene.


5. Trim verbiage

I know it's there, especially since my character tends to be a reflective, thoughtful sort. I need to make sure her voice is concise as possible. There can't be excessive description, or repetition of any kind (ie, from here on out, my character is reflective, not reflective AND thoughtful!). And every extra "just" and "still" and all those other meaningless words really must go.



Do I sound psychotic yet? Don't worry, I have no intention of gutting my book for an artificial goal. But I do think my reader's right, and the more I can cut without losing Project Demo's soul, the better. Between you and me, I'm aiming for 75K. 

Have you ever gone on a massive cutting spree? Any additional suggestions I haven't thought of? How long is your work in progress?

Oh, and just to brag a bit more (and to prove I'm not making things up here on Critically Yours), here's the Alps in the distance:



12 comments:

  1. It was a great weekend! So many wonderful conversations about books and writing - I'm so glad you were able to squeeze a visit into your schedule!

    It was so productive for me too - I've spent yesterday and today doing research for some of the elements we discussed, and I have definite plans soon for a mini writing retreat with at the library with only outline and alphasmart in hand.

    Elisabeth

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    1. Yay! So glad to hear you're moving ahead with the writing, Elisabeth! Good luck! I can't wait to hear how it's all coming together!

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  2. Sounds like to get lean you have to get mean... But I think you're going to like the result.

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    1. I think so, too. Though all the deleted scenes will be saved! ;)

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  3. Wow, Anne, you sound determined and armed with a well thought out plan. I'll bet you're down to 75K in no time!

    My problem is the reverse. I am struggling at just under 30K now, wondering if I'll ever get to (at least) 40K. Hey, maybe you could pass some of those deleted scenes my way ;)

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    1. I hope so! I woke up this morning having some grave doubts... ah, the writing life! At least I have an excess of words; I've been in your shoes before, too. I'll happily send my deleted scenes over!

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  4. oooooh! Good stuff! I am bookmarking this info and sharing it. I need to cut, cut, cut!

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    1. Aw, thanks, Donna. I keep looking back at this post, too, reminding myself to be strong and cut away! ;)

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  5. All great ways to make cuts. I'm always amazed at how tightening up my writing and deleting prepositional phrases cuts down on my word count. Also specific verbs instead of phrases is so helpful.

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    1. So true. I'm really hoping just by going through the text and tightening sentence by sentence, I can lose a lot of the excess.

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  6. Fantastic tips. I recently shortened a WIP at the suggestion of some beta readers. I had to go through it several times to find redundancies in words (I overuse "that"), adjectives, scenes, and descriptions. It was so much better after I trimmed it.

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    1. Thanks, Medeia! That's the hope, and I think it will work! I don't think I realized until recently just how bloated this ms had become!

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