The Chopping Board

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! ;)

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22 thoughts on “The Chopping Board

  1. Daniel Koeker says:

    It is hard, isn’t it? I know that when I send my book off to beta readers and someone tells me to delete something, my first thought is, ‘No! Why would I do that? It’s perfect, it’s necessary, see? Everyone NEEDS to know exactly what that rock looks like, and yes, it does take three pages to describe it. If I take it out the entire plot will self-destruct!’

    Instinctive reaction, I guess. But it really is for the best. Sometimes I’ll take into account what a beta says, let it set for a while, then come back later and end up agreeing. Same thing when I get my professional writing back from editors. I go from, ‘Oh my lord, this editor is terrible, fire him’ to ‘Why don’t they fire ME? I suck!’

    • That sounds like a very important rock! Three pages is impressive! =x
      And yeah, it does sound a bit better after we let it sit for a while. I wonder if our clients feel the same way…

      • Daniel Koeker says:

        He was an important rock. Second in line to the throne and all that.

        And I hope so. I often have to ignore the part of my mind going, ‘Be nice, damnit, you’re going to hurt their feelings’ because… it’s gotta happen one way or another.

        • I see. =o Sounds like he deserves all three pages!
          I know what you mean. xD It’s better they hear it from us than hear it from reviewers and critics!

  2. A good beta reader is worth their weight in gold. It is hard to hear where things need fixing, but it’s sort of like that crappy first draft we know going in it’s not going to be perfect – yet.

    • It’s like receiving remarks from a critic, but only harsher because our novels are still in their first draft form. We just have to grit our teeth and get it done!

  3. I’m dreading getting to the stage of editing my novel. It’s so hard to get the time to get the word count in the first place that the thought of then cutting it seems ridiculous. But yes, it has to be done.

  4. AuthorWorld says:

    I’ve recently gone through 1 of my stories like that (I’ll post about it soon). I was terrified! And with good reason… I completely took apart chapter 1 after receiving feedback on more than one occasion which stated it was boring.
    It was the scariest thing I’ve ever done! But i now feel a lot happier with it & it works a lot better… So thank goodness for the feedback! :-)

    • Feedback is great for things like that! What we may see as incredibly exciting and well-done can be terribly boring for others. A writer can’t always rely on what they know because ultimately they’re too close to their work and can’t pick what’s right from what’s wrong. I’m glad your story flows better now! =]

  5. A very very difficult process, and in particular when you are watching your precious words vanish in a flash when it took so long to write them. You are doing good things though, looking at it from a reader perspective.

    • Yes! It’s difficult to just delete words you’ve worked so hard on. And that’s the second best thing next to getting a beta-reader or an editor!

  6. I love reading your posts. They are helpful and comforting. Writing and being mom are both solitary things. I don’t have too much contact with the outside world other than my blog and family.

    I just chopped five thousand words from my book. I tinkered around with it and cut stuff before, but this time I left it alone for a couple months. I came back with fresh set of eyes and did what was necessary. It was hard, but worth it. I look back and think wow that really made a difference. I think I am finally ready to start querying. Do you have any advice or resources you recommend?

    • Aww, thank you! I’m glad you like my posts and find them helpful. That means a lot to me. =D
      It certainly makes a difference, doesn’t it? One can improve quite a lot in a few months! And hmmm. Before you do that, did you ask anyone to read your manuscript? Even if you think you’ve edited it to perfection, it’s useful to have someone who can read it for you and point out mistakes you haven’t noticed. As for queries, I would recommend this site: http://queryshark.blogspot.com/ It’s really quite helpful!

  7. “But then I tried to put myself in the reader’s shoes.” That’s what I do, too, Zen. I knew I needed to make changes to my second book, and when I looked at it with “reader’s eye’s,” I was able to throw out entire scenes and blocks of text and dialogue. I’m editing a book right now and watching my word count go down by the hundreds!

    • Ouch. That must be painful! Good luck with the edits, Maddie. I know how difficult it can be to chop out all those words, even when they may mean a lot to you and not the reader. =[

    • I hate it when I have to do that too. =[ You think the part is good at first, but then you realise it’s actually not good to the story. Sigh.

  8. cydmadsen says:

    Great post, and one every writer needs to read again and again until it’s part of their writer’s blood. The way I get through this brutal process stepping back and looking at the proportion of things I’m keeping, and the proportion of things getting dumped. The dump pile is always smaller, and that’s telling me I’ve got more good stuff than junk. Keep going. It doesn’t matter. I’ve written well before, I’ll write well again. I often wonder if the brutal process of editing isn’t rooted in fear. I thought it was good, but it isn’t? Oh, no! What else am I missing? Is there no hope for me? Measuring what’s kept against what’s discarded often helps ease those worries. A little bit:-)

    • That’s a good way to look at it! It seems like it would give the writer confidence and assures them they’re still good. Not all their words are crap. Thank you for your comment! =]

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