Slash and Burn Editing

Admitting that I hear fictional people talking led to an avalanche of email. I think some writers are too shy to publicly admit they hear characters, too. They’ll just have to get past the shame of thinking they are crazy. They are not.

Speaking of characters talking, Petey and Rico are annoying me. Nor are they helping the cause. I will readily admit I spent a good part of the week shooting rubber bands at the BIG Mac screen where a page of new book is staring back at me. I’m not happy with it. Plus, to add insult to injury, I’ve got a plot knot that rivals the Gordian knot.

I read this thing and it’s already ponderous. Not unexpectedly so. But when I have no clue how to clean up the mess, the rubber bands come out. I am getting really good at sniping underperforming words.

TMI. That’s the problem. How much information does the reader actually need? I know I overwrite. After all, I’m the Princess of Prepositional Phrases and the Amira of Asides. Yeah, I tend to write like I talk. I firmly blame playwriting. All words should be spoken. Not really. But just read this aloud [delivered with proper indignation] and you will hear my voice. Strident. Annoyed. Frustrated. And peppered with laughter. (Even I don’t take myself seriously. That may or may not be a problem.)

But at the moment, the problem is that I am stuck and cannot seem to get around it. It’s like writer’s block but with too much information. Literary constipation, I suppose. I just cannot get what I need onto the page. I think this is the part where I get to say, “Shit happens.” Or doesn’t. First, you save a separate clean copy of the manuscript. This is crucial in case you decide you’ve really screwed things up.

Once that is done, you whip out the ol’ machete and take a flying leap at the prose. Slash and burn editing. I pull the sections that just aren’t doing it for me into a new document, tell the characters to go get a cuppa tea or whatever they’re drinking at the moment so long as they leave the room, and then I start hacking away text. Every query begins with does anyone need to know this? Line by line I read, think, decide, and edit. It’s a painstaking process even on a good day, but it’s one that’s necessary for me. Look, if you’ve read any of my books, you already know they are long. At the same time, you probably noticed a certain economy of words. I want to tell the story and get the point across. I bore way too easily when reading, therefore I don’t want my readers to be bored. But I still have a story to tell.

Yeah, it’s brutal but totally necessary. By the time THE POMEGRANATE went to the editors, it had shrunk by over 40,000 words from the original version. By the time the editing process was over, another 20,000 words were gone. Did I lose the bones of the story? I don’t think so.

The truth is, for me at least, over-telling the story is a part of my process. Getting it all down in the first draft is crucial for me. I will admit scenes…and sometimes even characters I love end up on the cutting room floor, but that’s to be expected, I suppose. In some ways, having it all there makes editing a little easier (not really) but you feel so much better when blocks of garbage are excised.

Face it, in the scheme of things literary, writing is the easy part. Editing is a bitch.

PS: In Dream Dancer, there was this really horrid character. I loved and hated her. Getting rid of her was a necessity; she took up way too much space and did not move the story forward. Two entire chapters went into the dust bin, followed by a whole lotta rejiggering of the story. One of these days, I’m gonna start a new tab called The Cutting Room Floor and I’ll post stuff I hated to cut there.

Cover of "Dream Dancer" a book by S. J. Schwaidelson

Published by SJSchwaidelson@The Author Is In

New York born and bred, living in Minnesota, I am a widow, mother, grandmother, and writer. These are the things I do well.

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