Thursday, August 23, 2012

Rewrite 5 - Cutting scenes and filling holes

Surgery is painful, and editing away scenes that you have struggle through is surgery without anesthesia. Here are a few thoughts that might be useful:
  • Time is your friend. For all the other advantages of giving your manuscript a rest, one of them is it reduces your emotional attachment to the prose.
  • Your instincts are right. Your logical brain will argue for many of the bits that must go, and it will make a convincing case: 
    • This scene reveals character.
    • The reader needs this backstory.
    • Dumping this will wreck your pacing.
    • The next scene makes no sense without this scene
    • Every book has departures like this, so it's okay.
    • Oh, what clever brains we have. And how they deceive us. Trust your gut and cut away.
  • You can fix it (and it's worth it). Yes. Your logical brain is often right about the havoc created by cutting material. But you can always repair it. After all, you know what needs to be fixed. And guess what. The book will be much better because of the sacrifices you've made.
  • You can always undo. If you feel stress when you cut, save the copy first as a previous version or create a file of cuttings that you can use just in case. I tend to do this, and there are a few times a year when I go back and grab one of the cuttings. I've even used cuttings for entirely different stories.
Because of the cuts you make as you rewrite and the vagaries of the drafting process, you'll have holes to fill. There are risks here of being less imaginative, creating variations in the tone, and blocks. What's up?
  • Filling holes puts you back into draft mode. You need to be patient, forgiving, and uncritical. Shut up that inner critic, catch a daydream, and write away. 
  • Filled holes suffer by comparison. They stand out as ugly siblings of the prose around them.
  • Filled holes need to be rewritten.  This may entail waiting for perspective. It certainly means reading the words aloud and bringing the full force of your rewriting process to bear on the words.
  • Filled holes may need to be cut. They may not solve the problem. They may even reveal that there is no problem to solve.
  • Filled holes should not stand out. That means they need to be in context before your job is done. Reading the scene that comes before, the filled hole and the scene that comes after helps to ensure that things are smooth.
One more tip - you might want to write yourself a note about how you feel after you have gone through these two steps in the writing process. In particular, document your thoughts on how much better it makes the manuscript. When you find yourself in the same position with the next manuscript, this will provide a good reminder that it is all worthwhile.

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