Thursday, February 7, 2013

Do You Cut What's Not Necessary?

I just finished reading a book series, which I thoroughly enjoyed, but there were some writing issues that I not only saw in these books, but in other self-published as well. Not that I haven't made these mistakes myself, but I do have critique partners and editors that have helped me to hopefully fix these mistakes. I am sure when I receive my manuscript back from the professional editor, she will point out more that we need to fix before launching the book. Which is fine with me, more to learn in this on going 'class' of creative writing. 

One of the hardest challenges of a writer is you can't see the mistakes like other's do. I have seen this time and time again. In fact, people point out something for us to fix and we just told our critique partner that they were doing the same thing. 

But, what is really getting to me is the attitude of a lot of editor's today, they are changing the rules. Of course you don't want to change the 'voice' of a writer, but writing issues are just that, mistakes. 

So, I thought maybe talk about a different issue each day on the blog and hopefully get people to talk about these creative writing challenges. There is always something to learn, and I am up for new ideas myself. 

I feel fortunate to have had such a wonderful writing coach. Janet Roots taught me a lot about creative writing skills and I soaked up the knowledge like a wet sponge. She is from Europe and they are more rigid about sticking to the 'rules' of creative writing, which I have to say, makes for a more tighter and cleaner read. I wish the newer American editors would stick to these rules themselves. The books out there would be not only good stories, but great reads. 

Today I thought we could talk about cutting where we need too, and keeping what's important to the story. I have found one of the hardest things to do is delete a sentence, or even a scene that's not necessary for the book. 

1. Don't fall in love with a line, you might need to get rid of it because it doesn't add anything to your book. 

2. When you are in the process of revisions on your manuscript, look at each scene and ask yourself, does this really add to the story? Is it important enough to write a scene for?

3. As you revise, look at each sentence and see what words you can cut. For example, go through your manuscript and do a find on each sentence that starts with But or And, and see if you can rid yourself of the But and And. You will find that you won't need a lot of them. 

4. And finally, watch your info dump areas. Can you tell this information in dialog as apposed to inner thoughts? This is a great tool for character building.

So, those are my suggestions for cutting, and hopefully, enriching your writing. I know that it's hard to make yourself cut, especially a whole scene, but if it isn't important you are leaving your reader left to skim certain scenes. Which takes away from what you're trying to accomplish, a loyal reader of your books.

What do you do to cut down your manuscripts? Do you take the time to get rid of the info dump?

Leave me a comment and tell me your thoughts on this subject. Next blog I will talk about redundancy.


Until Monday, have a great weekend! Love, Lisa 









21 comments:

  1. I don't have enough hard experience for this one. I'm the sort of writer who usually edits as I go. Sometimes I will go back and get rid of something that seemed good at the time I was writing it, but not so much when I go back. Often this will apply to writing to seemed fantastic at first, then overly melodramatic later on. My university creative writing professor used to mark passages like that with a "Boo!". I tend to fall for the "Boo!" moments while writing and see them later as a bit of film noirish overkill.

    Lee
    Wrote By Rote
    An A to Z Co-host blog
    Twitter: @AprilA2Z

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  2. Boo...Huh. That's a strange mark. I used to write the whole book, then go back and revise. I am finding that is harder to do. I now edit as I go, but try to go back the next day, then edit. Funny how it sounds different the next day lol!

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    1. Yup. That's what Dean Wesley Smith calls cycling. You go back and tweak as you write. I find that works better for me, too. I can't technically call any of my writing a "first draft," since parts of it are on their fifth or sixth iteration. By the time I finish something, it's pretty close to finished.

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    2. "Boo!" is not so strange when you look at the context. It would come in those told-not-shown type passages that melodramatically explained to the reader what had just happened or conveyed my personal thoughts. My inspiration came from those intros and taglines that Rod Serling used to narrate in the old Twilight Zone episodes. What I was doing was adding an unnecessary emphasis to my scenes by chilling or scaring the reader with my intrusive observation as though I were enrapturing the reader with my story and then suddenly shouting, "Boo!"

      I think my approach was more acceptable in 19th century literature and writing up to about the 60's. Now it seems silly and jumps out at me after I've written those passages. It's like trying to explain a joke after you've told it. Let the reader figure out what's been written and if the writing's been good no explanation should be needed.

      Lee
      Wrote By Rote
      An A to Z Co-host blog
      Twitter: @AprilA2Z

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  3. In my style, I shall address each point with my feedback.

    #1 is likely the reason Sir Authur Quiller-Couch said: "Whenever you feel an impulse to perpetrate a piece of exceptionally fine writing, obey it – whole-heartedly – and delete it before sending your manuscripts to press. Murder your darlings."

    Anything you're so thoroughly attached to is something you cannot be objective about. One may argue that with a great deal of practice, one can be close to objective, but that's really not the same. The only way an author can know for sure, without outside eyes, that they have created a masterpiece is to stick it in a drawer for a year or more, wait until they've written so many other things that they can't even remember the main character of that story. Then, maybe, just maybe, they can be objective about it.

    But then, maybe not.

    #2 I actually do this before revision while writing the first draft. A good example is one of the novellas I finished back in December. It had 19 chapters in the outline, but I only wrote 18 of them. One was left unproduced. When all was said and done, it didn't really offer anything to the story. It offered something to a character's development (if I was pushing it), but it offered nothing to the story as a whole. Sometimes you have to sacrifice character for story. My dark side also says that sometimes you must sacrifice a character for the story. I've done that a few times.

    #3 has one caveat. You never know when seemingly extraneous words are useful. Why? Pacing and sentence flow. It's best to read a story aloud to see if it flows. The only time I go removing or adding words is when a sentence sounds clunky. I'm sure I don't catch all of the clunky sentences (I've had a few readers point out sentences that I to this day have no issue with), but it's a good exercise. If it sounds good out loud, it's probably good.

    And it's not always about being succinct. You want all those extra words when you want to slow the reader down. Take them out and speed the reader up.

    #4 is a funny one. My best advice here is to never reveal anything you don't have to. If it's not relevant to the story, don't waste your time describing it in the first place. That helps to keep things lean.

    I've seen stories where people dump a bunch of physical details about their protagonist. Details that have absolutely nothing to do with the story. So what if they have blond hair and blue eyes? Does it matter? Oh, it does? Well then keep it in. Otherwise, toss it. The only time I think such physical detail might be included even if they don't tie into the story somehow is with main characters. Readers should probably know what they look like. :D

    Research. It's often said that readers should see less than 1% of the research that went into writing a book. As a master of the material, write it as if other masters of the material will be reading it. Maybe pepper in a few minor details. Then give it to someone who doesn't know the material and see if it makes sense to them. If it does, perfect. If it doesn't, put in more detail until it does.

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    1. Ryan, as always, I love your comments. First, let me say, I agree wholeheartedly about reading your work out loud. It does help to hear mistakes. But, to really know where you need to cut you need a good critique partner. Someone who is a great writer themselves. I have been blessed with some great critiques. It has helped me to see my weaknesses and strengths. Although, I do agree you can take or leave what they suggest, sometimes you really need to take.

      When I began revisions on my book, I cut the first 6 chapters and rewrote the story up to chapter 10. It took the story in a somewhat different direction, but so much better one. We ended up adding where it needed and cutting what wasn't important. I tried to look at it as a movie. Where would they cut my story to put it on the big screen? What characters would they cut? I believe the story is so much cleaner now.

      As far as cutting words in a sentence. A lot of times, you need to actually rewrite the sentence so that it is shorter and tighter. We find when we do this, the sentence flows much better. But, I do agree that you should look at the sentence before cutting out a word. Most of the time, it will need rewritten.

      and finally, info dump. I was so bad at info dump in the beginning. I learned how to tell the reader what I wanted them to know with dialog, and a little inner thought. A good example would be one of the writers I am helping with critiques right now. She wants to keep adding other's POV's in the book, instead of cutting that out and just having the characters explain to the main character what they saw. Or, she had in the beginning of her book several pages of the main character talking about her past life. Too much back story, and no dialog. No one really needed that info and it gave nothing to the story.

      Another example is describing a room, or a scene for two pages. There's no need for that. People will use there own imagination, you don't have to draw a picture. There are important scenes that you need to describe, such as seeing a city on another planet, in more detail. Or a foreign landscape. Maybe a character that is newly introduced, but not from head to toe lol.

      thanks again for your insight Ryan, I always like to hear your thoughts!

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    2. Blogger limits comment size. EVIL. I knew Google lied when they said their motto was "Don't Be Evil." This post used to cover twice the material and was considerably longer than Blogger dictates is appropriate for a comment.

      As clarification, I was never attempting to discount the need for a critique partner. I agree wholeheartedly. You need someone, at the very least, to help spot the big muck-ups. We're unfortunately too close to our work.

      I always approach storytelling in the way one would a television show (given my penchant for episodic storytelling). It's really quite handy. Once upon a time I looked at things as a book, but like you, I found that thinking of it as a film or TV show helped trim the unnecessary fat and helped things flow. Now I just start that way. It's easier.

      That's probably a consequence of writing since I was a kid in one form or another. The oldest, completed (ish) work I have still in my possession is a short story I did back in high school (which, ironically, I wrote with a TV show in mind). A+. I think it's crap writing at this point, and we weren't challenged in that English class (it was the first appearance of creative writing in 3 years), but the story was workable (I think I've made it clear in the past that writing does not equal storytelling).

      That story was the basis for the series, Shadows, that I'm working on right now. Amusingly, it was intended to be a series back then. I'm further on this one than the old one. I had completed 3 of the short stories back then. I'm beginning the fourth and fifth episodes of the new series.

      It was really interesting going back and taking something I had written (at the time) about a decade earlier, and weaving it into something that was only recognizable at the base. And it's continued to be an excellent source for ideas. I didn't have the entire short story series outlined, but I had brief plot summaries that have helped me come up with some of the subplots in the new series.

      And finally, thank you for rescuing my posts out of the spam folder. I really wish I knew why they went there and how to stop them from going there. It really is unnecessary extra work.

      I look forward to Monday's post.

      =)

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  4. @ Lisa - Very informative essay. Thank you for helping to teach myself and fellow writers specifics that will help in our careers. On ... "Do You Cut What's Not Necessary."

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    1. I do Daron, or at least I try too. Thank you for your comment!

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  5. Thank you Lisa. Very informative, as always. A screen writer, who is also close friend of mine, told me to write as if I were writing a director's script. Re-read each paragraph, and re-write over, and over again, as needed, until your characters come to life. The reader needs to identify with each character described in the story. I agree with that, but I also feel, that a good editor can help you much more.

    I just finished my first novella, and will need a good editor prior to submission of my manuscript. I have also read self-published books, and to my horror, have found too many mistakes. Don't want to go that route.I want the reader to feel good as he/she reads my book.

    On another note..what can you tell me about Red Lead Publishers, Sweatshoppe Publications, and OutSkirts Publishing? I have posted this question to others, but my comments are not been posted, for some reason unknown to me. Blessings.

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    1. Hi Johnny,

      I was on Lisa's site and saw your question about the publishers. I saw the head of OutSkirts speak a little over a month ago. They have various ways to help people self publish and it's probably worth checking out their website. It sounded as if you could get as much or as little help as you need from them. It was a very short speech at an creative MeetUp! group, so he didn't go into the company as much as speaking about self publishing. I don't know about the other two you mentioned.

      Not sure if that was very helpful, but the guy seemed very sincere in helping people self publish.

      R.G. Calkins

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    2. Hi Johnny, these sound like companies that edit for a price and help you to self-publish. I agree with the mistakes in self-published books, but that is what I am doing. I just got great critique partners and went through every chapter and then hired a professional editor. Then I will hire bookbaby to format my book for ebooks and they will also print out paperbacks. I hired my own artist, but bookbaby will also do that too and I've seen their work and it's good.

      sounds to me like these are expensive publishing co. If you don't have a critique partner, I would suggest starting there. There are people on line that do this too. If you submitting to publishing co. just remember they are also outsourcing editors now and they still get a good chunk of your profits. They really do very little for you. Just food for thought.

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    3. I would avoid Outskirts Press like the plague. It's one of the scammy "self-publishing" companies that overcharge authors, charge too much for the author's books, etc. It's similar to iUniverse, Trafford, and other Author Solutions ilk. Avoid like your life depends on it. I've not heard of either of the other ones so can't comment on them, but be diligent. Review their services, their terms of services and submission guidelines, and find someone who's used them and will give you an honest testimonial. If they have testimonials on their site, they're probably a scam.

      Your better bet is to find a freelancer for all of your various needs (i.e., editing, interior layout, cover design, cover art), because it will cost less in the future.

      If you want to publish with a traditional publisher, you do not need to have your book edited. In fact, it's generally not a good idea. Kris Rusch, in a recent Business Rusch post on hiring editors, had this to say: "First, I must state something for those of you who want to remain in traditional publishing only. Do not hire an editor before you submit your book to a traditional editor. Do not. That will cause more problems than it will solve."

      Lucky Bat Books and BookBaby have some fairly decent a la carte solutions to most publishing activities. There are other a la carte service providers out there as well, but I haven't heard anything about them or else I'd have them in my bookmarks. If you're in Canada, you might even take a look at editors.ca to find an editor in your province or city.

      As Lisa has said, you would do well to self-publish. Get a few good first readers, a critique partner or two. Go through, make your revisions, see how they stand with beta readers. Then send it to a copy editor (copy editing, for the record, is the final stage before doing print and e-book layout). Also, you would probably do well to read The Business Rusch, which is available for free on kriswrites.com. Dean Wesley Smith's Think Like A Publisher and New World of Publishing series could also help you. They're available on deanwesleysmith.com.

      I won't even remark on the constant re-writing except to say you need to read Smith's Killing the Sacred Cows of Publishing series.

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  6. Hi Lisa,

    I wanted to post a comment earlier, but ran into time issues. I'm just now sitting down to do this.

    As you well know, I've been doing major revisions and cuts to my first ten chapters. I really have been 'killing my darlings,' as I cut about four characters and a lengthy, convoluted plot that was okay, but not exactly moving things forward.

    I'm now revising chapter twelve, which has a lot of description right up front. I need to find a way to integrate it so that it's not an info dump. Luckily, my revisions of chapters ten and eleven have given me a way to do this.

    From here on out, the book is pretty much how I want it, so I won't be doing so much rewrite as revision. However, there is a scene that I'm really fond of that I know I have to cut. It's a character description that I think is really good, but it doesn't move the story. It does give the reader an idea of what this character is like in the funny, sometimes sarcastic, viewpoint of my protagonist. I will cut it though, and hopefully there are other places to add in some of the personality and descriptors of this character.

    While I'm cutting in some places, I also need to add in others. I hope you talk about beefing up descriptions soon. We've both had to do it. Sometimes our descriptions lag or fall flat because they're not rich enough. I have another character that I need to give more life to. She is a major player and I haven't given her enough verve.

    Oh, (look an interjection) other words to cut besides but/and: that, just, the, of, like, etc. These are words that get overused. There may be a better way to say something without using these lovely little conjunctions, prepositions, and interjections. Of course, we can't completely get away from them.

    I have to say that I love my critique groups. No matter how much I get beat up or praised, I always come away with good things. Both groups are different. RMFW (Rocky Mtn. Fiction Writers), has a strict format and time frame they stick to. There are English teachers, editors, attorneys, published authors, and newbies in this group. All admit to still learning, all admit to needing the feedback. What I've come to refer to as my Golden group, you, Janet B., and now Tanya, has a more relaxed venue and it's an atmosphere that encourages the bouncing of ideas and suggestions. Both have given me infinite pleasure, pain, knowledge, and encouragement.

    Lastly, Janet Roots, what can I say about meeting her and learning from her. I believe things happen for a reason and attending her writing group is one of those. I learned so much from Janet and am still learning even though she's across the pond now. I hope that she continues to be a factor in my writing.



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    1. I will talk about descriptions on one of these blog posts too, maybe the one next Thursday. That is one of my weaknesses, not so much knowing where it is important, but how to actually describe in a way that sounds flowing and detailed. I agree with critique group. I have found it as important as rewriting. I look forward to having Tanya involved now. i think it will help in the books ahead. And, I agree about Janet, i learned so much from her and it has helped me to make sure my novel is as clean and concise as possible before I launch it. I think European writers are much better ones, and their acting is better too!

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  7. Great blog discussion! I agree with the need to "murder your darlings", and it's your critique buddies who hand you the axe. I set up a file I call "spare parts". I parked some of my darlings there when I couldn't stand to see them disappear into cyber-oblivion. It made me feel better--and maybe they'd come in handy somewhere else. Or I'd just go visit them and glory in the writing. It turns out that I seldom visit that file. And my manuscript certainly hasn't missed them either.

    I've learned that every scene must have a specific goal or purpose that moves the story forward. So much for merely waxing poetic about some setting or some emotion of the chracter. Every character in the scene must have a goal. Does the character reach his/her goal or not (and it's often better if the answer is NO)? And then, what is the reaction of the character(s)to attaining or not attaining the goal? Scene by scene, the story is driven forward. Anything that doesn't specifically advance the story probably has to go, darling or not!

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    1. I agree to a certain extent. You still have to do character building, otherwise your character has no richness to it. It's important to know their thoughts and backgrounds. The type of life that they lead for your reader to feel close to this particular character. Books are all about the characters, not just the basic story.

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  8. I've cut entire scenes and chapters when they didn't further the plot. Several books on writing say that each sentence, paragraph and scene should have more than one purpose: minimally to advance the story and deepen the characters. It's painful to cut favorite scenes, but we have to do it. I'm still learning about self-editing. I want to catch as much as I can on my own, but know I'm blind to many of my errors still. Good to have other readers.
    Good list, Lisa.

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    1. Thanks Jagoda, and sorry I didn't back to you until now. It's been nice not getting on line until now today. Monday will be about redundancy, which we are all guilty of, sometimes we don't even realize that we just said the same thing a short time before. I hope to see you then!

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  9. The writing process challenges the creative and grammatical aspects of the craft. Often it takes a trained eye to bring the best of both together. I find that your Blog explores the avenues that every writer must take and gives us a better understanding of the writing process from idea to fruition...

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    1. Thanks Michele! I hope you stay tuned. I plan to write about a different creative writing topic each post and try to cover a whole different range.

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