I identify with that feeling of despair in seeing some scenes hit the cutting room floor. There’s one, out of all the scenes and parts of scenes I’ve cut from several novels, that haunts me still and I’m determined to slip back in between the pages one day, if given a chance.
The above is part of a comment I left last week on Writer Unboxed, a writing blog that’s fast becoming one of my most frequently visited. It was in response to a post by Stephanie Cowell, on the subject of creating a rising plot line, and the struggle she faces in that creation.
By her own admission, Stephanie isn’t a plotter. She puts her characters on the page and follows them, and creates a plot in the process. I’m more of a plotter than that. In fact, my current novel in progress was more thoroughly plotted before I wrote the first word than any novel I’ve ever begun.
But when it comes to each chapter, each scene, I like to give my characters some wiggle room. I know the main plot points or character beats and conflict I want to hit, but I like to remain open to the characters saying something unexpected, or taking an action I hadn’t foreseen weeks or months ago when I conceived their story line and what their goals and conflicts would be. When they do, I let them run with it for a bit to see what might come of it. There have been times when giving them rein led me to a revelation about their character that I mightn’t have reached any other way.
But this writing method has its down side. It gives rise to some lengthy scenes and chapters, and the need to go back when I’m further along in the story, or perhaps not until the first draft is written, and trim, trim, trim back everything that I began to develop, or allowed the characters to indulge in, but proved unneeded later on.
This is needful for two reasons: tighter storytelling makes for a better paced and more compelling read, and my first drafts always run ridiculously far over the acceptable word count for CBA historical fiction. There’s no choice but to cut.
Sometimes the cuts are just a line here and there, or a paragraph. Sometimes it’s whole scenes that need to go, because they aren’t pulling their story weight.There is always worth in the the scenes or partial scenes I end up having to cut, or I never would have written them. They deepen character, or give complexity to a conflict, or lend the overall story atmosphere and mood. But if they don’t move the story forward as well, they have to go.
“I am always in despair of all the stuff I have to cut. It stays in my heart,” Stephanie Cowell wrote at Writer Unboxed last week. It’s true. There’s a low level grieving process that goes on in my soul when this happens. Stephanie’s post felt like an arm around the shoulder, a voice saying, “Yeah, I know. It hurts.”
I’m sure Stephanie and I aren’t the only writers who write long and then cut back. If you do this as well, have you developed any tricks for enduring the pain? Or does it get easier with time and practice? Are there more writers who write spare prose and find themselves having to go back and add material? I admit, that’s something so foreign to my process that it’s hard to imagine. Oh, the luxury to be able to add to a story!
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