The Benefits of Pruning

Posted: June 24, 2015 in Uncategorized
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Before you get excited, let me clear something up. This is not about canning prunes.

Okay.  On to new business.

Regular readers of this blog will be aware that for the last few weeks I have been talking about accepting that you may need to rewrite.  That it is okay to let go of your favorite bits when they are not working.  If you’re still struggling with this in your own writing, just know that I feel your pain.  I’d been nursing my chapter one for as long as I’ve been writing this novel with my daughter.  Many parts of it harken back to the very first draft written entirely by the seat of my pants — before we had a plot or an outline or even much of a story.  It was hard to let it go.  But I’m a better writer now, and I’ve come through the entire novel-writing process and out the other side, so I know these characters and their situation thoroughly, now. The chapter one I let go of had so much bondo and touch-up paint on it, it only seemed well-constructed to the most casual glance.  The new chapter one is the chapter our book deserves.

But replacing the old with the new is only one part of the process of editing your book.  There is another process that is just as important, and no less difficult.  Maybe even more difficult.

Cutting without the intent to replace it with something better.  Just cutting.

My rewrites were inspired by some recent critiques I received on chapter one of The Last Princess, and one of those comments was that the chapter was too long for a middle grade novel.  I accepted that; it’s a notion I’ve been flirting with for a year.  And having accepted that fact, I was natually able to see that chapter two — which is substantially longer — must also be too long.  At first I thought I might simply devide chapter two in half and make two shorter chapters, but that pushed the inciting incident all the way to chapter four, and that was too far.  No, I had to rewrite chapter two to be shorter, too. But completely aside from rewriting it, I actually just removed large chunks of the story — entire paragraphs at a time.

In fact, I cut half of the chapter and replaced it all with one short scene. Because I could now see that the whole point of that scene was to convey one fairly important idea. And I could convey that idea just as well, if not better, in a shorter scene without all of the unneeded filler.

When all was said and done, I’d actually cut over 3,000 words just in those first two chapters.  Ten pages. The first two chapters fairly catapult you into the story, now.  The pacing is so much better, now.  I guess all I needed was permission to cut. And the sun shines through so much better now that I have.  I didn’t kill the tree — oh, no!  By pruning I’ve given the tree new life and more energy than ever before.

So let me save you some anguish and time: Go ahead. Cut. I give you permission.

  1. Yes, I know cutting is hard. I did a massive rewrite in the last year, and even after that, I’m in the process of another edit. I’m about 1/3 of the way through my editing and have already cut about three chapters worth of words. Insanity, right? It’s hard to cut, because I really love some phrases and scenes, but it’s necessary if they’re not essential to the plot.


  2. […] talked a lot about cutting things from one’s manuscript – what to cut from one’s manuscript, why to cut from one’s manuscript, how to deal with the […]


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