Thursday, July 30, 2020

Time To Reduce

As we come out of an SDCC@Home weekend where I probably ate about as healthy as I would at an actual con (I was going for the full experience) I thought it’d be a great time to talk about reducing things.

He said, in a blog post he skipped getting on the treadmill to write....

Anyway, back when I was doing the A2Q we broke down different types of editing, and one of them I touched on was reductive editing. This is when I start cutting and trimming to make my story lean and tight. Figuring out what needs to be there as opposed to all the stuff I threw down while I was working on the first draft.

And since I just finished doing this with my new book last week, I thought I’d talk about some of the cuts I made and explain why I made them.

The first cut was easy. I had a section where two chapters overlapped. I liked the overlap at first. It was an action scene with multiple characters, and I thought it kept things moving to show all of his fight and then all of her fight, even though they happened at the same time.

But when I looked at it again during my editing pass it just felt... slow. Also kinda repetitive, since I kept referring to the other fight in both versions to show how they overlapped. Also, it created an odd problem with ending the chapters—either one had to end flat or I had to repeat the cool end-beat and weaken it. So I cherry picked a bit, leaned more into his than hers (for a couple of reasons, but I feel pretty good about it for the moment) and then cut 750 words of overlap.

The next one was rough. Throughout the book I had a few chapters where we switched POV and checked in with the main antagonist—the big bad in charge. Essentially, that big voice going “Meanwhile, at the mad scientist’s lair...” Thing is, these chapters never sat right at any point in the process. Not in my first draft. Not in my second, “cleaning up” draft. I didn’t want to give away too much in these chapters (since my villain was much more in the know than my protagonist), but it was hard not to mention some things without feeling like characters were deliberately not talking about things.

I’m not sure exactly what did it, but I know during my second draft I had the realization that I could probably cut one of these POV chapters altogether. There wasn’t a lot of necessary information in it, and I realized what there was I could shift to other chapters and characters without any real trouble. And that made me suddenly wonder... wait, do I actually need any of these chapters? I mean, a big chunk of the first one was just backstory justifying the antagonist and their behavior... while not talking about anything that would give things away. Another one introduced a character I’d only created to make some exposition read better. The more I looked at it... yeah, I’d definitely have to rework some things, but for the story I was telling these chapters were really distracting and didn’t add anything. Heck—two of them I still hadn’t even fleshed out, even though they’d been through two drafts.

So that was another six thousand words gone. A little over six thousand, really. Only a few pounding heartbeats for that one. And now the knives come out. Time for the death of a thousand cuts.

I’ve talked before about looking out for overused words. So I did a couple passes looking for that, adverbs, a lot of the “somewhat” words and phrases I can’t help but use in train-of-thought mode. We all have them, and you might already be aware of yours. If not, feel free to borrow mine for now and see where they get you.

I also had some other things that I was worried about—words that might be showing up a lot by nature of this specific story and how it was being told. That was another pass or three through the manuscript. I was kinda surprised that one or two didn’t get used as much as I thought they would, but... one I included as an afterthought showed up way more than I expected. Think I deleted eighty-something uses of that one.

One thing that did strike me with this is I didn’t find a lot of my usual padding. The adverbs and the “somewhat” phrases. It was still there, yeah, but not as thick as I’ve piled it on at times in the past. After twelve full books, I’m finally improving. Maybe.

In the end not quite a death of a thousand cuts. With additions and rewrites as I went, it worked out to a little over 300 words less. A full page gone.

That’s how this part of editing goes. Word by word. Sometimes chapter by chapter. All of this added up about 7,250 words gone out of what began as a 124K manuscript. And I still may trim a little more when I get notes back from my beta readers.

Next time, if you’re up for it, I’d like to play doctor for a little bit. No, not like that. Get your minds out of the gutter!

Until then, go write...

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