Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Prune those branches: Making the hard cuts in editing


On my latest round of revision notes, my editor told me that FLASHFALL is suffering from an overload of good ideas. I don’t say that to be boastful—it actually points to a problem I have when it comes to writing. A problem I am struggling with as I work through this round of edits.

I’ve heard a writer explain it like this. In writing, 1+1 equals minus 1. In other words, saying something well, or writing a thrilling scene is good, but doing it again (in the same way) doesn’t add up to more good. It cancels out the first one.

Writers throw around the phrase ‘kill your darlings’, but it really is vital. We often need to cut scenes or characters we love, to make the essential ones that much stronger. 

Every Easter, I leave a trail of jelly beans from my sons’ doors, down the stairs, across the floor to their Easter baskets. They wake up early and race along the trail, each candy a discovery leading up to the finale basket. One year I got lazy and left whole packages of jelly beans outside their doors. They frowned when they saw them. It didn’t matter that they got twice as much candy—the experience was lessened. There was no thrill of the hunt, no build-up to the basket. By the time they opened the chocolate bunny, they were candy-numb.

While editing, I discovered a couple bags of jelly beans in FLASHFALL. One of them is a beautiful, emotionally poignant scene at the end. I have to cut it. Why? Because it’s followed by another, beautiful, emotionally poignant scene. And one plus one equals minus one in writing.

I have to kill a darling. And let me tell you, this one hurts. 

The two scenes have a similar emotional resonance. By cutting one of them, the scene that remains is more powerful.
In FLASHFALL, there are creatures that attack the miners. The scenes are important in differing ways, they’re exciting, they reveal character and propel the plot forward. BUT. My editor had me cut whole scenes of this. Too many jelly beans. Too much action of this sort can lead to readers feeling like, “oh, tunnel gulls again, run, Orion, yep, there she goes being kickass and blah-blah-blah.” 


So what did I do? Sharpened my shears and chopped those scenes right out. There were some great moments in there--but the book is better for having cut them.
To make it easier, I keep a ‘cut file’ document open alongside my manuscript document, and cut and paste things into it as I go. That way, I still have those scenes/sentences/bits of dialogue if I decide to go back and add them later. I almost never do.  

Trust yourself to make the hard cuts. Prune the ‘branches’ of your story. It always pays off. 

Jenny Moyer is the author of YA sci-fi/fantasy FLASHFALL (Holt/Macmillan, fall 2016) She studied writing at Seattle Pacific University, and currently lives in Iowa with her filmmaker husband and three boys. She's currently at work on the sequel to FLASHFALL.

Where to find Jenny: Website, Twitter, Facebook, YouTube

Where to find FLASHFALL: Goodreads

1 comment:

  1. Ugh I just did this on the first act of my WIP. It can be so hard to see why they need to go, but my MS is almost always freer for not being weighed down!