Not just trimming words, but chopping

Writing a book isn’t easy. I think we can all agree on that. So the realization that you might need to cut chunks—not just little pieces, like I talked about here, but big things—can hurt. I mean, after writing all those words, it can feel like a big waste to cut them!

Here are some reasons to go for it, though:

1. It’ll make the book stronger.

If you’ve already decided that a certain subplot isn’t necessary, or a scene isn’t doing enough work to deserve to stick around, or a conversation has too much blah blah and not enough interesting stuff, then you already know the story will be stronger and better paced without it. I’m not telling you anything you don’t already know.

2. You’re not wasting words.

I know it can feel like that, but you’re not. Sometimes you need to write something just so you know what you don’t need in the story. Or, in my case recently, I needed to see several parts of my characters’ history, but aside from a few important moments, it wasn’t big or interesting or important enough to deserve to stay on the page. I needed to get that part of the story out of my system so could know, but that was iceberg stuff—and not the tip that shows.

As for how to make the cuts?

1. Identify what you need to keep.

Be extremely honest. If there isn’t anything that needs to stay, just highlight and cut the whole thing. (I assume you have a different draft saved somewhere else that has all this stuff. Or, if you’re using Scrivener, you’ve taken a Snapshot and have plenty of backups.)

You probably already know what needs to stay, but some general advice:

a) Can the reader understand the story without this part? If not, keep it!
b) Does it move the story forward and reveal something (motivations/worldbuilding/theme) in a new way? If so, keep it!

In my case, I was cutting a bunch of flashback scenes down to the most important moments. Down from over a thousand (or two thousand!) words to under five hundred. I looked for the meatiest bits. The big, pivotal moments. The one, most important thing I needed to share with the reader.

2. Make the cut.

Yeah. It’s a big step. It gets its own number.

3. Smooth out the edges.

Chances are you chopped up some transitions and messed with your pacing when you snipped out a huge chunk of text, so go through and fix them. Take a careful look at the beginning and end of the cuts for transitions. Read the whole thing through and see how it sounds. Is it too fast now? Maybe add a beat or two to make it feel more natural. (But not too many! You cut for a reason, after all!)

Don’t be shy about going through it a few times! You’ll probably find more and more places to smooth out. It’s a delicate process, so take your time.

4. Eat a cookie.

What? You worked hard. You deserve a reward.

What do you guys think? Any tips I missed? What other advice would you give to someone who’s looking at cutting a huge chunk of their beloved book?


11 Responses to Not just trimming words, but chopping

  1. Aly Jul 1 2015 at 10:49 am #

    Great advice! I was reading something the other day when the plot began to veer away from the main issue. At the end of the chapter I thought, “Why was that even in the book?” Confused, I considered it and realized that it revealed a good deal about the main character’s ideals and ability to adapt. Then it all made sense! It’s a very important thing to do properly, making sure each scene has good reason to be included.

    • Jodi Jul 4 2015 at 11:01 am #

      Thanks! I’m glad this was useful!

  2. Nigel Nessling Jul 1 2015 at 11:45 am #

    When Deanna and I cut paragraphs, even one whole chapter from our own book, we saved them all into a seprate Word document. We have our own website to promote our book, and, if we should be lucky enough to obtain a publishing contract, all of the cut pieces will appear on our website, under a page entitled, ‘Deleted scenes!’ Well, if the movie industry can do it, why not us writers?! Then nothing is truly wasted!

    • Jodi Jul 4 2015 at 11:01 am #

      That’s a fantastic idea! I know lots of people who save theirs for “deleted scenes” features. Lots of readers love seeing those!

  3. Russ Soh Jul 2 2015 at 12:12 am #

    Sure. Writing is hard work. Keeping writing trim is even harder work. Was it Mark Twain who said to a friend, “I’d have written you a shorter letter, but I don’t have the time!”

    • Jodi Jul 4 2015 at 11:02 am #

      Hah, I love that quote!

  4. Laura Wardle Jul 2 2015 at 4:45 am #

    Fantastic post, Jodi—and so well-timed! I love how you’ve broken it all down into steps. I find information so much easier to process that way. Thank you! 🙂

    • Jodi Jul 4 2015 at 11:02 am #

      Thanks! I love breaking things down into steps. It helps ME so much to think of things like that!

  5. Rowenna Jul 2 2015 at 4:03 pm #

    I also remind myself–you never have to throw anything away. I keep a running document full of deleted scenes and chunks. Sometimes I salvage pieces later–like “Oh hey, that was good description and I’m totally lacking that in X scene.” Often I don’t, but it makes me feel better to put things in the recycle (maybe) bin than the trash can.

    • Jodi Jul 4 2015 at 11:04 am #

      That’s definitely right! Keep EVERYTHING! (Sometimes I go back to my old chapters to see if I can use stuff again. Occasionally I can. Sometimes I have a line I want to fit in, but can’t… But I’m always glad I kept my old writing.)

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