I am seeking the nuclear option of manuscript trimming. I need to seek out ant destroy about one hundred pages worth of material before I’ll be happy sending Acceleration anywhere. The hard, cold, reality of rock and hard place that I find myself sandwiched between is that I have yet to find a truly extraneous, totally filler scene. I have some overzealous transitions and some lengthy descriptions that can go, go go, but so far everything I’ve read over had a point. Nothing is in there for the sake of page count despite its origins as a NaNoWriMo novel–a feat for which I suppose I could congratulate myself if that didn’t mean that I still have 240,000 words of more or less relevant information which still has to be gotten rid of. Fortunately for me, I’ve developed a few tricks already, and the internet is full to the brim with more. Here are a few that I’m focusing on this week:
Do you have a sequel? Use it.
If a scene is relevant to the plot overall but not to the book that you’re writing, chances are the most important elements of it can be moved into the next book. Many underlying themes in a series are fluid: then when is not as important as the what, with some exceptions. So cut that gigantic thirty page sequence of martial arts and mudslinging (I promise you that someday that will make perfect sense) out of your poor overtaxed manuscript and plop the main points of the scene, and the best material from it, in the next book. This method can also be called “when in doubt, procrastinate”, but it’s something to keep in mind when the size of your first novel is your primary concern.
Cut everything you’re tempted to skim.
It’s your manuscript. You know what it says. You may tell yourself that’s why you’ve just skipped half a page while reviewing it: WRONG. You skipped half a page because something was sub-par and detracted from your contented own-glory-my-goodness-I’m-so-talented basking. Writer’s may be their own worst critics, but we also have large and needy egos: they’re what puff us up enough in the first place to believe we have the insight required to narrate human nature and other, albeit sometimes fictional, peoples’ lives. If your giant writer ego isn’t being stroked by a passage, there’s probably something missing even for you, and there will definitely be something missing for the reader. So kill it. Kill it, kill it, kill it.
You need to be an omniscient, all powerful Goddess for the universe you’ve created. Your reader? Not so much.
I’m always tempted to tell my readers every last minute detail of my universe. The thing is, they really don’t need to know. An author needs to understand the semantics and context of the situation they’re writing for, but while the nuances of adaptive bio-mechanical armor might be interesting to me, what’s probably more important for the reader to know is that the character wearing it is a veteran soldier, and that soldiers are controversial figures on his planet. Some day when we’re all rich and famous with movie deals, we can answer our adoring fans’ questions with a nice, fat, illustrated encyclopedia of our universes–arms technology included. Until that day comes, however, some details should be need-to-know. Cut them, store them in your story notes, and move on with the plot. Your odds of being published will probably thank you for it!
Kill your darlings (but not too fast).
This one we’ve all heard. This is my solution for accepting it.
You know those fun little character building, insightful little asides that you love more than anything? Ask yourself what they add to the plot. Sometimes the answer is “vital character information” or some-such, but sometimes it’s “I really really really love this scene” and there’s a good chance that it’s still not essential. When you have an oversized manuscript, these nonessential scenes might not be something you can afford. Don’t destroy these if they’re really that good, though. Instead pull them out of the manuscript and store them somewhere else. Get them out of there, but if it will break your heart not to have them somewhere, simply put them away, don’t delete them entirely, to ease their passing. Your psyche will handle it better knowing they’re around if you need them, though there’s a very good chance that when you re-read the manuscript without those components you’ll find you don’t miss them at all.
This is what I’ll be focusing on during my spring break. I’ve also been following advice from elsewhere in the digital ether, and interested parties can check out those links here:
Recurring problems in scripts (also applicable to books). These aren’t about fat trimming, but they may tell you where to look for weak spots which could then easily be chopped out.