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So You Wanna Write a Book: Making the Cut

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Now that you’ve finished the first draft of your book, it’s time for the excruciating part: editing. Some people view editing as a way to fix those little spelling and grammatical errors that get in the way of a good read. But any writer worth their ink knows that’s just a small part of the process. Read on to learn how and what to cut from your manuscript during the editing process.

Get Rid of Unnecessary Sentences, Paragraphs, Scenes

Give your story momentum by striking passages that don’t move the story forward (no matter how lovely the prose). A scene thrown in simply to fill in the time between two important events looks like…well…a purposeless scene. And please, please, PLEASE don’t use that time to have characters discuss the weather or other mundane topics. “But I want it to seem realistic,” you might argue. “This is how regular people talk.” Yes. But you are writing fiction. Regular people discuss the weather because they can’t escape one another and have nothing else in common to talk about. Your reader can escape by putting down your book and forgetting it ever existed. Don’t give him or her a reason to do so because your book has “extremely realistic dialog.”

One of the tricks I tell writers is to get rid of the first chapter and see what happens. Many times the second chapter is a much stronger starting point. It’s amazing how many writers, even seasoned ones, start out their books with “information dump.” It’s as if the author has decided that in order for the reader to thoroughly understand their character, the author must reveal every important detail of that character’s past. But think about it this way: have you ever met someone who told you everything about their life in the exhausting first couple of hours of getting to know them? It’s a lot of information to take in all at once, isn’t it? You might even become confused over who was who in their story and what exactly happened and to whom and where. It sure is a lot of details to have to work out in your head. And after they’ve told you everything…there really isn’t much else to learn, is there? So think about THAT before dumping everything into a reader’s lap.

But let’s say you are positive Chapter One should stay where it is. You’ve started at a strong place where the reader becomes immersed in the story. You haven’t thrown in so much background material that it sounds like a laundry list of what you want the reader to know. But…you may have these issues and not even have thought about it:

Run-on sentences:

Really long, rambling sentences that have a lot of different subject matter mashed together. Separate sentences by subject matter, please! And vary your sentences so that some are short an punchy, others more expository. Cut any words that aren’t useful to the sentence. Your mantra should be: Doesn’t flow? Let it go.

Subject Redundancy:

This is a tricky one because you might not notice it at first. Basically, you give the reader information. Then, explain it again in a different way, almost as if you worry the reader won’t get what you meant the first time around. Or maybe your character tells another character about something that has happened, and then later in the chapter, this character explains it all over again to another character. Ugh. Once the reader knows something, it’s not necessary to keep repeating this information unless it needs to be brought up later in the book as a reminder for the reader. But you should be okay sharing this information just once per chapter. Slash subject redundancy from your work.

Word Redundancy: 

A second set of eyes will help you with this one. You might discover your favorite word is “just” or “suddenly.” Or maybe you have a crush on the word “perfect.” (The flowers were perfect. The weather was perfect. The couple had a perfect time.) Using the “Find” feature on your computer will help you delete and replace these sneaky, overly-loved words. You may also discover most of your sentences start with “She.” Use the person’s first name once in while, but don’t let that be your default. Concentrate on finding a different way to structure the sentence. [One caveat: A lot of newbies start their sentences with “-ing” words. An example: Varying sentences will help create less redundancy. But note the sentence is now passive. Better: To create less redundancy, vary your sentences. Don’t get in the habit of starting sentences with “-ing” just to change things up! They become exhausting to read. Strike as many of those “-ing” sentence starts as you can from your work.]

So now you’ve purged repeated words and redundant subjects from your manuscript, prevented information dump, and found the perfect start to your chapters. Now what? Well, I find that sometimes entire scenes can be moved or deleted. Yup. Kid you not. Entire. Scenes. “But why?” you cry. “I love when my character finds a flower and weaves it into a wind chime.” But here’s the question to ask yourself: Does it move the story forward? Does it help with plot, conflict, or characterization? Is it thematic? Does it show up in other areas of your novel? Does it have symbolic meaning and play into the storyline? If you can’t answer yes to any of these questions…sorry to say, it needs to go. Otherwise, readers will be scratching their heads wondering what it’s supposed to mean. Is it a metaphor for something? Will the flower-wind-chime come into play later and save the day? The reader will be watching for the answer…waiting to see where this oddity plays out. If you insist on having it in your book for your own, personal enjoyment, expect a disappointed reader. They usually leave bad reviews, by the way.

To recap: Sometimes editing your work means deleting sentences, paragraphs, and scenes. Sometimes, this is painful. But it will streamline your novel.

This is a five-part series developed by K.L. Gore for Lilac City Rochester Writers, presented on October 27th, 2018.

Coming Up Next:

-Ridding your work of the dreaded “-ly” adverbs, and what to use in substitution

-Locating dull or repetitive words and cliche phrases that put readers to sleep

-Fixing pacing issues that either slow the story down or rush a scene into confusion

-Discovering where your character’s arc has flattened

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