Friday, May 21, 2010

Where To Begin

We are still glowing from the results of our 'Audience With an Agent' contest. So many wonderful entries made it very difficult to narrow down the choices to six finalists. Thank you for giving us the opportunity to read your work.

On Wednesday, it was our privilege to interview Andy Meisenheimer and Renni Browne of The Editorial Department (TED) - publishing's oldest full-service freelance editorial firm. I urge you to check out their services when you feel your manuscript is ready, and also to buy Renni's book (written with Dave King), Self-Editing for Fiction Writers. This is the book I hear recommended most often at writers conferences by agents and editors. As you read, exercises and checklists help you apply what you have learned. Have plenty of highlighters on hand. My copy is a rainbow of color!

Love it or hate it, rewriting is a necessary evil. So, where do we start? For lack of a better plan, we often start at the beginning of a manuscript, tweaking and trimming, cleaning up grammar and punctuation as we go. But what happens if the entire chapter needs to be deleted? We have just invested more time and energy, polishing our words to a glow and fallen more deeply in love with them. What's the answer?

Another fine book on revision is Getting the Words Right by Theodore A. Rees Cheney. In it, he states:
"Seventy-five percent of all revision is elimination of words already written; the remaining twenty-five percent is improving the words that remain."

His 'formula' for getting the words right can be simply stated as 'reduce, rearrange, reword.' He begins by reducing chapters, sections and paragraphs, then progresses from sentences to words and then to shorter words. The words that are left are the ones we tweak and polish because they are the 25% that remain.
It's a simple place to start.

Most of us find it painful to cut chapters or large sections of our writing. The words represent characters or scenes we have labored over lovingly and have brought us joy. Perhaps for their creation we have sacrificed time away from other activities (or family) or hours of sleep. Making a file for these cuttings is not only comforting, but beneficial. We never know what important information might be woven back into the story.

The majority of the time, I find that I never miss the sections I have to cut. I save them in a file and never revisit them. What has been your experience? Do you find that it gets easier the more you trust your instincts? We would love to hear from you.


Anonymous said...

What an interesting post, Debbie!

I guess I was born without the gene that would allow me to cut a whole chapter. A scene maybe, but not a chapter. An editor would have to pry it out of my hands.

Cheney's method sounds like amputation to me. I'm not sure I could do that. Maybe because I am constantly going back over chapters as I write them?

Debbie, you have a whole lot more self-discipline than I do!

Any of the rest of you good at doing what she describes?

Wendy Paine Miller said...

Thanks you for the book recommendations. I'll have to check those out. This is one reason I love to have others read through my work. At times they can be more discerning with what needs to go, but I'm learning how to let go easier.

I have used descriptions I've loved from my earlier novels and journal writing.

Words on the page are never wasted, even if they just spur on a fresh idea.
~ Wendy

Lori Benton said...

Debbie, I will get me a copy of Cheney's book. Macro edits are hard.

I trimmed a 325K historical down to 135K. This required lots of cutting and restructuring on every level. There are only two scenes I miss like a couple of lopped off fingers, one of which I will reattach if given the slightest chance to do so. The other I can get along without. I guess. *sob* ;-)

Terri Tiffany said...

For the first time ever, I deleted three chapters from a book that I knew in the back of my mind needed it but it was so hard to let them go. Now that I have, I can honestly say it made it so much better! I worry about getting enough wordcount in too much instead of writing the best story I can. It is actually freeing now that I am deleting!

Debbie Fuller Thomas said...

Latayne, when a person has written as many books as you have, they get good at editing as they go. That gives you a free pass! I doubt that you would get into that situation now.

Wendy & Lori, I have also used favorite descriptions or deleted scenes in other books, but I'm feeling like I should make a note somewhere to keep track of it somehow so it's not used again. I'll have to work that out.

Terri - the first time I heard a presenter say that often the story starts on chapter 3, I thought, "Wow - glad that's not me." was me, and it took a long time before I could cut it, but I felt better afterward.

Patti Hill said...

Oh! Oh! Oh! Debbie, this is exactly what I needed to hear. I'm combing through a completed manuscript. It's like cutting an artery, but your words give me the encouragement I need to CUT more, always more. Thanks!

Patti Hill said...

I should have added that for each book I create a file, like: "Seeing Things beautiful words to keep." This makes it easier to chop. Sometimes those words find a home back in the manuscript. I've even used scenes cut from one book for a sequel. Giving my words a home takes a bit of the sting out of chopping them out.

Cindy R. Wilson said...

My last manuscript was the first one I'd ever really taken a huge part of a chapter out. I ended up having to rework the scene, make it in a different location and reveal new things, which was extra work. But they way it turned out is so much better for the book, so I'm trying to always see the better side of big revisions like that.

Nancy Williams, LPC said...

I'm doing some final edits before sending in my first manuscript - non-fiction. Good to read your posts and these comments to help as I read back through and alter, and read and alter ... keep asking: is this the best way to make that point? It did help as Wendy said to have others read through it. And I can see what Terri says about it being freeing. Thanks, ladies.

Bonnie Grove said...

Oh my, how I cut and omit and rearrange.

I've cut entire endings.

I've cut characters.

I've cut chapters.

Snip snip.

I'm not especially sentimental about cutting things. I'm looking for the thing to sing.
Cutting characters is more difficult, but I've learned to borrow a line from Desmond in LOST, "See you in another life, Brother." It helps.

Rearranging is HUGE for me. Often the first draft is about barfing my thoughts onto the page before I forget them. My circular brain will often return to a setting or description or action and write about it again, after I've already talked about it.
As I "clean up at noon" (to quote Bradbury), I rearrange like with like, arrange my logic, and start chopping. The first thing that goes is repetition. I often say the same thing, in a different way, twice. So, chop chop, rearrange, rephrase, sew sew. . . ah, lovely.

Steve G said...

All I can say is that none of you are ever going to cut my hair...

Word verification - keystir: A desperate move during a culinary shortage while camping.

Debbie Fuller Thomas said...

Steve - if we do, we'll save it in a file for you to possibly use later. :)

Kathleen Popa said...

Steve and Debbie, those last two comments were wonderful - I LOL'd.

I don't save the cut portions in a separate file, simply because I save the whole un-edited file as a separate document. (Hmmm... wonder why I run out of space on my hard drive?)

For the most part I love editing - at least the stuff I do voluntarily. On good days it's like polishing silver - A little work, but BIG rewards. When I finished my last novel, my editor, Nicci Jordan Hubert, asked for lots and lots of work, and some of it was painful. But the rewards were even bigger.

Karen @ a house full of sunshine said...

I know this topic is kind of over, but I'm still piping up cos I only just read the post and I happen to have spent the last 6 months cutting.

Okay, the actual cutting part only took a couple of days. 15,000 words... gone.

I had to rewrite a multiple POV book in single POV. So the cuts were easy to make. Not so easy: taking all that deleted information and working it back in from the perspective of the main character. Then doing some tricksy word stitching to make my patched-up piece look seamless.