You’ve finished writing a story, you’ve let it sit aside for a day or a week or maybe even a month, ignoring the dust accumulating on it, trying to distract yourself with new ideas and reading that pile of books you’ve left sitting on your desk for the last few months. But you know you’re going to have to come back to your story eventually. You know you’re going to have to place it on the chopping board.
You need to arm yourself with a few things – a red pen or a computer, a trusty beta-reader or editor, and a whole lot of grit. You may also want to throw in some chocolate to calm your nerves. You’re going to need it. Place your papers or your computer on the metaphorical chopping board and get ready to start cutting and dicing! It’s not as bad as it sounds really, and I should know because I’m done my fair share of cutting (yes I know that sounds bad), but you can’t deny that some of the things in that book have got to go.
I know that when it came to my story, there were many things I didn’t want to delete. “This scene is important!” or “I need to keep that dialogue!” or “Does that character really have to go?” I was convinced that these things played a huge and important role in my story, and deleting them would just detract from the whole thing and turn the novel into a giant mess. There were lines I thought were too pretty to go, or inner monologues I thought did a great job of showing how my characters were like, or descriptions I believed were quite necessary.
But then I tried to put myself in the reader’s shoes and asked myself some questions: What does this scene offer to the story? Does this dialogue sound too cheesy? Would I glaze over this part if it weren’t mine? Why on earth do I have so many adverbs? Do I really need to tell the reader what the bathroom looks like? No? Chop, chop, chop!
As difficult as it was to watch my word count go down with every deleted passage, I knew this was for the best. I knew I was only helping my story become more refined and polished. I was able to gain more perspective when I worked on other novels and manuscripts and saw how necessary it was to sometimes chop out pages at a time. Redundancy is not okay, excessive monologue is not okay, lengthy descriptions are not okay. As much as it makes you wince, cross out those lines or press the Backspace button and never look back.
I do admit I have a raw copy of Puppet Parade hidden away where the sun doesn’t shine, and yes, it does make me cringe when I read it, but shhhh! Don’t tell anyone!