Painful isn’t it? When you’ve spent hours working on something, fallen in love with every breath, every movement our characters make.
As a picture book writer, I was use to cutting words. Every word had to prove its value. Claim it’s place. When you’ve only got about 500 or so words, that’s some valuable real estate!
I had gotten pretty confident in my ability to cut unnecessary words.
But when I wrote my chapter book, I found a whole new monster. Words or phrases were hard enough to get rid of. Entire SCENES??? That didn’t seem possible.
But actually, LOTS of scenes that I’ve often written into a story aren’t necessary and are more dead weight than any manuscript can handle.
Let’s look at a few common places to look:
Overdone Character Development:
Who doesn’t love a good sidekick? One of the key characters in any story, and often even more memorable, they’re fun to write. But there are times when I have to remind myself that the goal is to have enough development to be REAL, but to mainly move along the main plot line.
Sub plots are key. The relationship between Sidekick Jules and her father may be important to develop, maybe even how connected Jules was to the mother before she died. But spending time going over the type of memories she still with her mom, that may be crossing the line into over-developing. It all depends on how Sidekick Jules is connected to the main character. Ultimately if it doesn’t affect the main character in some way, it’s likely not necessary.
So that beautiful scene with Sidekick Jules and her mother cooking together on long Sunday afternoons… it may be gloriously touching and brilliant. But it’s still got to go.
Repeats and Reminders:
As a reader, this has always been something that sticks out to me in any novel, yet I’ve STILL found myself doing it in my own manuscripts.
As a reader, I want to be trusted. I’m an intelligent human being. I can make connections without them being thrown in my face. I remember things that happened a few chapters back without the MC’s mother lecturing them about it as a way to remind me.
I want the writers TRUST me. If I like their book, I’m paying attention.
But as a writer, I can’t help but want to point out the genius and oh-so-subtle connections. I want to scream… Remember??? That’s just like what happened in Chapter two, it correlates to what they’ve been saying the whole time!!! I want to highlight the connection or foreshadowing from an earlier scene.
Why you ask?
Simple: A strangely unique combination of arrogance and self doubt.
The honest answer is that I’m proud of it, and I’m not sure the reader will put the pieces together. I want to be sure they see how amazingly it all links up.
But it’s more than trusting my readers. I have to trust my writing. I have to believe that it’s engaging enough that they really were taking in the story. That what may have seemed like a subtle inconsequential scene at the time, was memorable enough to connect to this one.
Repeats, reminders and recounted events take readers out of the story. They’re largely for the piece of mind of the writer, making them as indulgent as any other “darling” we have to kill.
Scene Change Explanations:
When writing a novel, or even a chapter book, it generally takes place over a period of time. Enough time that not every single thing that happened can be laid out in the manuscript.
It can be a hard line. You may have to explain away a few days, weeks, months, even years. Perhaps Sidekick Jules hasn’t seen the MC in a week. Why? Should it even be addressed? In how much detail?
Unfortunately, I don’t have an answer for you, other than the super not-at-all-helpful: It Depends.
Yeah… I know. Useless. Sorry.
But it’s a place to look for fat to be trimmed. In some situations, I think I can learn a lot from script writers, who often jump from scene to scene with little or no explanation of what happened in between. And some of this comes back to the same lesson as above. My readers are smart people, they can put the pieces together, fill in the blanks on their own much more than I am likely to initially think.
Unnecessary scenes are usually boring, they slow the story arc down, and they pull the readers out. In a good novel, a reader innately feels the flow and they want to stay with it. Unnecessary scenes are jarring. Our words are precious. Cutting words, scenes, perhaps even subplot or entire characters is an important part of the job of getting the story out there.
And painful as it may be…
… our manuscripts are worth it!
Erika Wassall is a writer, a farmer and a liver of life. She is a member of SCBWI and a proud Mad Scientist, bringing science experiments right into children’s classrooms, and hearts. She has a small farm in New Jersey with sheep, chickens, pigs and vegetables. Check out her new website at www.TheJerseyFarmScribe.com where as a first generation farmer, she often takes the long way, learning the tricks of the trade on The Farm. On her website is also The Shop page with tips and a free Q/A from her husband’s mechanic shop, and The Writer page where she shares stories, experiences and characters from the heart. Follow her on Twitter at @NJFarmScribe. She’d love to hear from you!
Thank you Erika for another great post.