Work-in-Progress, Word Count:
7:00 p.m., Sunday: 1,335 words (Yes!)
8:15 p.m., Sunday: 1,570 words (Progress, sweet progress!)
9:00 p.m., Sunday: 1,733 words (Closing document for the day, satisfied with progress, going to bed, smiling—Queen of the World!)
12:38 p.m, Monday: 1,000 words (Not smiling)
1:00 p.m., Monday: 933 words (Growling, not crying yet)
1:32 p.m., Monday: 481 words (Believe or not, grinning from ear to ear)
I just lost 1,252 precious, blood-bought words of my manuscript.
Yesterday evening, I zoomed along at breathtaking speed. The words literally flowed from my fingertips to the keyboard to the screen. Good words, strong words. Indispensable words, every one. Would I write any OTHER kind?
Poor thing. What happened? you ask, sympathetic. Computer crash? The old accidental deleting of a document?
No. My critique partner happened, that’s what.
After I turned the document over to her, she came back with the dreaded diagnosis: repetition, too much dead weight, this scene is not moving the story along. The writing, she said, was good. Actually, the scene itself was good, too, but was just a repetition of mushy feelings of the characters—simply huggy-kissy emotions that had already been explored many times in previous chapters. Dead weight.
I will admit that, before I got the edict back from her, I sort of knew in my heart that the chapter WAS full of junk. I will also jokingly admit that I sometimes think I attempt to produce words, any words, just to keep from winding down to the end of the story, to actually keep from typing The End. Sounds silly, but it’s true; however, that's another story for another blog.
Humor aside, though, I wonder if I’m the only writer who sometimes feels relief when a keen eye DOES spot dead weight in my story and DOES suggest snipping wordage.
I don’t know how to describe the feeling I get when I drastically slice a document, when I set the story free of useless baggage. Is it frustration? Only a tiny bit, only at first. But after the initial disappointment, it’s mostly a feeling that could only be likened to losing unwanted body weight. Good, refreshing, empowered.
A practical description of the unexpected rejuvenation that comes from trimming a document is to compare it to film edits. Have you ever watched the special features in movies—the deleted scenes? I love to do this, especially with producer commentaries. I’ve watched some of the lost scenes and wondered why they were relegated to the cutting room floor. They looked really good to me. In fact, they were sometimes, in my uneducated opinion, the best scenes in the film.
But, upon hearing the commentator explain why the scene was not a fit for the film, why it had to be dropped, it made sense. I saw their reasoning. And usually the explanation they cited was that the scene did not add to the integrity of the movie, it did not move the story along. When I looked at the big picture through the film editor’s eyes, I saw it as well, and I agreed that the deleted scene indeed would not have contributed to the film and, furthermore, may have bogged it down.
The result, most of the time? A better film. A tight, smooth story.
It’s the same with editing of our writing. I’m not saying that a critique partner is always right. Of course they aren’t always right. But the bottom line is that they are readers, whether they are writers or not. And they know when they’re tired of reading the same sentiment over and over again in a single manuscript, which was the case with mine. They know when they’re bogged down with unnecessary detail.
A step further is the publisher’s editor. They have an eye for these inefficiencies in our work as well. And, no, editors are not infallible. No, writers don’t always agree with them.
Mind you, before you stop me and say, But wait!, I’m only referring to true unnecessary wordage. I often hear writers tell of instances where they refused to budge with critique partners and editors on certain scenes. One author in particular told how she fought for a particular scene in her manuscript, against overwhelming disapproval from her betas. She was warned the scene would ruin the story. She held fast to the piece—not driven by vanity, but her gut feeling that this part of the story needed to stay. The result? The author was correct. The reading public unanimously agreed.
Sometimes we really do know our stories better than anyone else and we DO have to stick to our guns by refusing cuts of scenes or words that we just KNOW belong. I suppose, at those times, it comes down to pure, passionate instinct.
But—when the betas or critique partners ARE correct in their diagnosis of our work, and it truly is a chapter chock full of debris—then, as crushing as it seems at first, it truly is for the benefit of the story. If we step back and see it as if through they eyes of the cutting room chief, then we probably will be relieved to shed the unwanted weight. Our story will more than likely be tighter, have more impact, our words will get more bang for the buck. And our stories will sigh and thank us.
I wonder about your experiences? Do you see the improvements when your betas, critique partners or editors catch the impedimenta in your story, even if it means losing hard-earned word count? How often DO you have to chop fat from your manuscripts? Have you had scenes that you fought tooth and nail to keep? And, if you did—were you right in holding on to them? Did you ever have that scene that you DID fight over, that the readers’ positive responses assured you that you’d made the right decision?
I’d love to know.
Friday, 10 September 2010
Work-in-Progress, Word Count:
Posted by C. Zampa at 05:38