Friday, 10 September 2010

Bye Bye, Wordie!

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.


Lex Valentine said...

No matter how beautifully wrought the phrases may be, I've had to dump thousands of words that either did not suit the story (direction felt wrong) or were pure info-dump. It happens to all of us. You learn to just sigh and write other words that are beautifully wrought. ;)

Ana Lee Kennedy said...

Every time a writer doesn't listen to that voice or what the heart says about a story, it will come back and nip you on the butt. I have had it happen over the years too. Always pay attention to that inner voice.

C. Zampa said...

There IS comfort in that the new words can be just as beautiful, Lex! That's a good point!

Thanks for visiting!

C. Zampa said...

Hello, Faith! Thanks for stopping by!

Yes,the innter voice IS the one to heed. When it's not just vanity making you cling to the words, but your heart. Then they're the right words.

Cassie Exline said...

Oh the pain of edits, yet a necessary evil for crit partners and editors. (Makes me think of getting my hair trimmed and looking at the floor and wondering if I have any hair left. lol) Somehow the magic is still there. Not long ago after rounds and rounds of edits and being told one more for polishing, I was ready to pull out my hair. I mean come on! Then some beautiful person with wonderful eyes saw a mistake that had been overlooked from the beginning. How that was possible, I don't know, but the angel caught it. Magical.

C. Zampa said...

Hello, Cassie!

I LOVE comparing to a haircut! Oh, and, the new cut can be so beautiful and welcome!

And bless that angel for catching that mistake!

cluculzwriter said...

I sympathize, Carol. I know all too well how painful it is. One thing, the more you're willing to discard the wasteful parts, the easier it gets to see them yourself, without the aid of a critiquing partner. When that happens it's so exciting. You know you've taken a huge giant step forward.

Happy editing!

Mykola ( Mick) Dementiuk said...

No matter how I try I always start off filled with ideas, 5, 6 pages a day dwindling down to barely one. But no matter how long or short the pages may be I still kept sitting there and waiting... As long as you show up and show your muse that you're there, she will notice and begin to tell you what you are waiting to hear. Just be there. Just show up. I have hoards of completed novels that were completed because I showed up for work, though many days I didn't want to be there but I was. It's like a job, we've all got to do it. Some slak off and others don't, you decide which you will do...

C. Zampa said...

Thank you for visiting, Joylene! It's always SO good to see you!

And--at the risk of embarrassing you again--lol--you were one of the very first to point out the repetitions, to show me how to tighten. My words seemed to have a habit of tripping all over themselves! lol...

And even now? It's still my greatest problem! But, as you say, it does finally get to a point that I start to see it myself. And if I don't, Sarah does. Sigh. lol...

C. Zampa said...

Hello, Mick! It's so nice to see your sweet face!

I love how you put that. Show up for work. What a way to look at it! Oh, Mick, that thought is indeed a keeper!

Debbie Gould said...

Edits.....ewwww! A necessary evil. But what comes of it is beautiful! Great post, Carol! Can't wait till you get this one done!

C. Zampa said...

Hi, Debbie! Nice to see you,lady!

I can't wait to get it done, either! Because we're going to have cheap champagne, Pepsi and wine! LOL...

Yes, they are a necessary evil, edits! But you're right, what comes out is beautiful and worth it!

Sarah Ballance said...

When I've got word baggage, I tend to get that "something's not right" feeling with my ms and I can't always put my finger on it. As much as I don't like sending anything to my crit partner that's less than what I'd consider a clean first draft, she always puts HER finger right on the problem. Even when I'm initially aggravated by the cuts - especially since I've normally poured hours into trying to "fix" something that shouldn't have been there to begin with - it always feels AMAZING to see the clean, tight story left behind. I've learned to really appreciate editing! (And, for that matter, I've really learned to appreciate my crit partner, LOL).

Nicole Zoltack said...

Deleting excess weight is only going to make your story stronger and more publishable. And since that's the end goal (getting published), it's necessary. Now discovering what is excess weight isn't always easy, but that's what crit partners and beta readers are for.

C. Zampa said...

Hi, Sarah!

I know that feeling of 'something not being right'. You CAN feel it sometimes, which I often do. I'm finally beginning to find the extra weight on my own, but my crit partner is good at catching my 'misses.' Thank heavens!

C. Zampa said...

Welcome, Nicole!

'Publishable.' The magic word that makes it all worth it. Thanks for that reminder! True words!

Janice Seagraves said...

I write rather spare myself. My editor and my critiquers are usually telling me to add more words or more description to my stories.


C. Zampa said...

And I'm just the opposite, Janice! LOL.
Always having excess words, repetitions.

Thanks for visiting, lady!