1. TheWingedFox
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    TheWingedFox Active Member

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    Snip! Snip! Cutting out a lot of what you've written.

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by TheWingedFox, Apr 5, 2015.

    I've read a few writers say this,when asked about their work,and want to know how true it is.

    The (published) author will say that they cut out large segments...completely rewrote parts...changed the plot line...There was one quote I read from a prominent writer,someone here I'm sure will enlighten me who,and he said something to the effect that you must edit out everything that's not immediately relevant to the plot,to paraphrase. I'm thinking it's HG Wells,for some reason.

    But surely the whole point of writing is to say a lot more than just what is happening.. It can't surely just be,x said this,and then y did that,so z did this...

    I worry that I might be told to edit it down,but this isn't some magazine article or police statement...it's supposed to be a work of art/fiction/storytelling.

    Has anyone had this problem,or can someone give advice on how best to deal with it?

    I know they say,why use three words when you can use one...but we're writers. Surely we decide if we want to do that?
     
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  2. Link the Writer
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    Link the Writer Flipping Out For A Good Story. Contributor

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    They mean that you edit out the parts that are not needed to the plot, that 'pad it out' as it were. It doesn't need to read like a police report, it just needs to have smoother pacing that's all. Think gentle waves on a beach rather than rapids with cliffs and rocky outcroppings.
     
  3. GingerCoffee
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    GingerCoffee Web Surfer Girl Contributor

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    It's not about trimming descriptions and sections that fill out the story for the reader, it's about trimming stuff that doesn't do that.

    We recently had this discussion here, "I know you love that paragraph but take it out." But there's no reason not to continue the discussion here.

    An example came up in my critique group last week. The author had a couple pages that built on the same thing, how a character was resisting another's urging. It was nicely written. But it went on about a page too long. When more than one of us told the writer it needed to be shortened, she commented how she loved each and every paragraph. Funny thing was someone immediately brought up the "kill your darlings" quote. (See the other thread).

    My saying comes from business school, "don't fall in love with you assets" meaning sometimes you have to let stuff you like go.

    A rich description is not the problem. Going on too long or putting in things that might make the scene more complete but don't move the story forward is.
     
  4. Link the Writer
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    Link the Writer Flipping Out For A Good Story. Contributor

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    Exactly. Basically if it doesn't push the story or character development further, then it has to go. That's not to say you can't have moments of quiet to give the readers a chance to catch their breaths, but if the scene of your character taking a shower adds nothing (save for potential fanservice), then cut it out.
     
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  5. Hubardo
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    Hubardo Contributing Member Contributor

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    Today I have finally taken what I have read here and elsewhere to heart. I am trimming my short story down so, so much. Taking out flowery, unnecessary language too (unless it has a purpose). It's kinda sad, but I've had 6 months or so away from this story so I'm not as attached. Crazy how much perspective time will give you.
     
  6. Void
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    Void Contributing Member

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    You're taking that phrase way too literally. "Cut everything that isn't relevant to the plot" doesn't mean you cut absolutely everything. You can still have interesting world building and character development that isn't absolutely necessary for the plot, but regardless of how good you are at writing, the probability of you doing all this perfectly on your first draft is basically zero. When it comes to editing, you will find a great deal of what you wrote can be paraphrased, rephrased or simply removed, because when the dust settles and you have a clearer picture of everything in the story, you'll realise the importance of certain sections has changed since you wrote them.
    And as others have said, don't become overly attached to your first draft, or your second, or your third, because there will always be ways to improve it that may involve removing content.
     
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  7. tonguetied
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    tonguetied Contributing Member Contributor

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    I will go out on a limb here and add that sometimes when you read something you have written and see that it doesn't add to the story you also have to think about why you put it in in the first place. Something at the time you were writing might have made that particular part important in your mind but it was not worded in a way to make it clear on a later review. In a case like that if I can remember why this detail was significant I try to reword it so that it does tie in and belong in the story. For me it might have been a plot hole type scenario that was avoided, but my first draft just didn't do the job. I am not a pantser and usually outline even the shortest story I might write trying to capture all the details I think are relevant, but my outline notes might not cause me to fully recall the reason for the detail. So before I cut out things I try to remember my thought process at the time.
     
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  8. Hubardo
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    Hubardo Contributing Member Contributor

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    Yeah I've defended (to myself mostly) extraneous material by saying it has to do with setting or character development. But since I'm only writing short stories right now I have to be careful with how much I do that.
     
  9. 123456789
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    123456789 Contributing Member Contributor

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    You've got to treat your reader like a fickle consumer. At any moment he will walk. Keep him focused on the plot, and throw in as many pertinent details as you can get away with it before he starts getting restless again and you have to move on(often it will be few). The best way to cram it all in is by density and or dynamic scenes. "John and Mary went outside. It was raining," VS "Mary refused to share her umbrella with John." The latter gives you much more information in the same amount of words.
     
  10. Nyghtfall
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    I recently watched a documentary called Tales from the Script. Andrew Marlow, the screenwriter for the movie Air Force One, recalled a conversation he had with Harrison Ford while shooting. Ford told him the speech he had written for Ford's character was one of the best he'd ever read. After Andrew thanked him for the compliment, Ford said he wasn't going use it because he could express everything in the speech with just one look. And he did.
     
  11. TheWingedFox
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    TheWingedFox Active Member

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    'Ford said he wasn't going use it because he could express everything in the speech with just one look. And he did.'

    I suppose,right there,that's the difference between novels and movies.
     
  12. TheWingedFox
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    TheWingedFox Active Member

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    '"John and Mary went outside. It was raining," VS "Mary refused to share her umbrella with John." The latter gives you much more information in the same amount of words.'

    So when you guys go through your work thus far,is it a a case of this?

    Telling yourself,'hmm,can I say what I did with these three sentences in just the one?'

    I get the impression that this is almost THE pivotal rule in writing...to condense,condense,condense.
     
  13. minstrel
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    minstrel Leader of the Insquirrelgency Staff Supporter Contributor

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    I emphatically disagree. For one thing, that kind of approach tends to wreck the reading experience for me; for another, it makes nearly all fiction read as if it's in the same style, and therefore makes it all boring. Ever try to watch the Disney Channel? Zero subtlety, quick cuts coming too fast, upbeat music desperately trying to hold your attention, an endless kaleidoscope of bright colors, random pans and zooms and other camera moves, all to keep a kid's focus from wandering. When I see advice like this, it makes me think, "Everyone wants me to write like I'm writing for the Disney Channel."

    I won't do it.

    None of my favorite writers did that. Steinbeck, Conrad, Kipling, Hemingway, Burgess, etc. didn't write like that. Their stories had room to breathe, room for whole scenes that developed character and setting but did not advance plot, room for the odd philosophical digression, room for the development of symbolic structure, and so on and so forth. If you cut all of that out, you may be losing the only thing that makes your work unique and valuable.

    Not everything has to be paced at ninety miles per hour to hold an adult reader's interest. Moving the plot along is not the only goal. The goal is to make the journey interesting, fascinating, enthralling.

    In 2005, my partner and I were finished with a job we'd spent five months doing in Florida. We had a ton of stuff we needed to bring back home with us. So we rented a van, loaded all our stuff into it, and began crossing the USA from Orlando, FL to the San Fernando Valley in California. If you look on a map, the most direct way, and fastest way, of making that trip is to take Interstate 10 all the way across the USA. So we started doing that, but after a couple of days (during which we had a wonderful stop in New Orleans), we thought, "This is the most boring route we could possibly be taking! Let's take the back roads!" So we got off the interstate and took a much slower, more meandering route. But it was during that part of the trip that we saw and experienced the coolest and most interesting - and most memorable - places. We saw a lot of funky, cool small towns. We ate in great mom and pop restaurants and stayed in funky little motels staffed by local characters who directed us to unique bars so we could have a decent drink when we finished our day's drive. We got to see scenery we would have missed if we'd stayed on the interstate. We saw the space-alien-crash museum in Roswell, New Mexico (and also the Robert Goddard rocketry museum in the same place - we hadn't even known it was there!).

    And we got to see the Grand Canyon. We sure would have missed that if we'd stayed on the interstate.

    We took what could have been a four-day boring trip and turned it into an eight-day fascinating and memorable trip. Which would you rather have?

    What I'm saying is that the slow way home is probably far more interesting than the fast way. I don't think these writers who keep saying "cut, cut, cut" get that. They think slow = dull and fast = riveting, but that's not always so. (Maybe it is in thrillers, and maybe it is in YA, but I usually don't read those.)

    Remember that not all readers are the same. They're not all looking for the same experience when diving into a novel. Sure, some want a fast pace and a short book, but others (like me, like @Lemex who loves Thomas Pynchon, like @EdFromNY who loves James Michener's heavily researched 1,000-page historical tomes) are looking for something entirely different.
     
  14. jannert
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    jannert Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    Well, I'd frame this and put it on my wall if it wasn't so long... :) Seriously, great post. Totally agree with every word.
     
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  15. minstrel
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    minstrel Leader of the Insquirrelgency Staff Supporter Contributor

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    So you want me to "cut, cut, cut"? :D
     
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  16. jannert
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    jannert Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    One of the interesting things I've discovered over the past 20 years is that readers are all individuals. I know, that's an obvious thing to say, but sometimes we get into the habit of saying 'readers this, and readers that,' as if everybody reads the same way. I don't think they do.

    My own novel is dense with detail. I've had dozens of beta readers who have read the novel at all stages of its development beyond the first draft. Some readers were unable to get started. Some readers said they skipped bits (and I paid attention to where those bits were, and tried to make them less skippable.) But what has heartened me are the number of beta readers who galloped through the story and enjoyed the detail and didn't mind that it was slow-moving in terms of time frame. (Not, I hope, in terms of character and story development.)

    I agree with @minstrel as to the richness of the journey. I also agree with the adage that you should write the kind of book you'd want to read yourself. I've done that, and I'm happy with the result. So are many other people. However, there will be people who hate my book, or who find it boring, or who can't get into it at all. That's the breaks. Personally, I don't enjoy reading the fast-paced-lean-mean kind of writing that so many modern how-to books and articles promote. The condense, condense, condense philosophy. It's like a dose of fast food. Goes down quickly and for me, is totally unmemorable and samey-samey. Every reader is different. I think it's important to remember that.

    And it's also important to remember that most people do NOT pick up a book looking for a reason to put it down again as quickly as possible. Maybe overwhelmed prospective agents do that, but I suspect if a person buys or borrows a book, they are hoping they will like it. (Some, like me, want the story to be an immersive experience and take a while to read. I am actually attracted to 'big' books. It means the fun will last longer.)

    I don't think readers will 'walk' quite as quickly as you implied. They will certainly walk if the book proves to be boring, but detail itself doesn't make it boring. Only boring detail makes it boring! If your details feel pertinent and contain elements that echo the reader's own experience of a situation, the reader will probably enjoy reading them. If the detail conveys new information that interests the reader, and is presented in a lively manner, they will enjoy reading that as well.

    Just write well. I think that's the only real 'rule' anybody needs to follow.
     
    Last edited: Apr 6, 2015
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  17. jannert
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    jannert Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    Yeah, you could turn Mark Twain's adage on its head : Do NOT eschew surplusage.
     
  18. Lemex
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    Lemex That's Lord Lemex to you. Contributor

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    I can only fully agree with @minstrel, don't cut cut cut - just write well. Write well and intelligently. If you read enough you'll eventually pick up on good writing. And it takes a degree of critical skill in good reading. Some short sentences can be mini-poems, somehow capturing something beyond what they merely say, take even just the first few sentences of Pynchon's magnificent Gravity's Rainbow:
    There is something about these words that just grabs total hold of you, and you can almost hear the world around them. The air-raid sirens, the bombs falling, the people walking in slow order in the 'Evacuation', capitalized as if it's a proper noun - what does that mean? Is it a joke? A piece of sarcasm? Look at the way Pynchon states 'But it's night', as if that needed to be said - he's already said there is no light anywhere, not even in cars, it is total blackout to try and hide the area from German bombers. 'Invisible crashing', too, is just a wonderfully evocative phrase - again, it's not really needed, but it just adds so much mood and feeling that wouldn't be there if it was left out.

    Now condensing is fine. Take another extremely fine piece of writing from Pynchon (since his work is on my mind at the minute) from chapter 1 of the imperishable Mason and Dixon - which I think is his best work:
    This panoramic sweep of Philadelphia during the Christmas period, 1786, is just breath-taking in it's scope. You can say the same thing in about 10 pages like George R.R. Martin sometimes does when he feels inclined to write 10 pages on a meal, or Tolkien does when he spends pages and pages talking about ... whatever it is he's talking about in tangents in Lord of the Rings. But Pynchon doesn't do that here, he selects small, really evocative images to build an overall impression that becomes a clear picture in the readers mind. If a picture can tell a 1,000 words, a few well chosen words can give you a picture - think about the snow-covered pile of bricks that would be a building but has been abandoned, the smell of coffee flowing through the rooms of houses, smoking chimney pots, the city in the grip of a fog that gives the impression it is the only city in all the world. It's wonderful - and it's condensed, but it isn't so condensed as to be lifeless and stilted, and boring, and that is the line you can't cross if you want to be considered a good writer.
     
    Last edited: Apr 6, 2015
  19. minstrel
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    minstrel Leader of the Insquirrelgency Staff Supporter Contributor

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    Thank you for saying this so well! :)

    I keep wondering what kind of reader would say, on first reading, "Well, here's a paragraph that doesn't advance the plot. I'm throwing this book across the room so the dog can eat it." When I'm reading, I don't even know if a paragraph is boring - forward momentum keeps me going for chapter after chapter. It's only if the writer piles up several dull chapters that I start thinking the whole book might be a waste of my time.

    But when I pick up a book, I want to like it. I will give it every chance to interest me that I can. I'm not going to toss it after one or two iffy paragraphs. If I did that, I bet I wouldn't like any books at all - no book is perfect. The book is my friend before I even open it. I walk out of the bookstore with my new books thinking they're treasures that I have in the bag, not about potential garbage. When I lived in Victoria, my favorite bookstore was just around the corner from my favorite pub. I'd buy my weekly treasures at the bookstore and make a beeline to the pub to examine them lovingly over a pint of my favorite beer. There was no question of tossing the books away if they had a dull page in them somewhere; I bought them for the enlightenment they might contain, and I was willing to slog through the occasional dull passage to get that enlightenment. Those were happy, happy days!
     
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  20. TheWingedFox
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    TheWingedFox Active Member

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    Well,these are certainly more opposing (and,I must say,positive) reflections on the philosophy I'd assumed was general amongst writers.

    Nonetheless,I can't imagine Dan Brown spending 10 pages describing his main character's journey to investigate some recent religious event...pretty sure his publisher will be saying,'take it out,Dan,your readers won't wanna hear all that'.
     
  21. minstrel
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    minstrel Leader of the Insquirrelgency Staff Supporter Contributor

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    Sure, but not all readers like Dan Brown (I sure don't), and not all writers are writing for his audience. There are a great many kinds of reader, and too many advice-givers don't get that fact. They think all readers are the same, and that they're all looking for the same thing in a novel. You have no idea how exasperating that can be for a writer! People wonder why there (maybe) aren't as many people reading seriously as there used to be. Well, when all the new novels look the same, and are written just like every other novel, almost as if the writers were all following the same book of writing advice, things can get pretty boring and readers find something else to do.
     
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  22. Mckk
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    Mckk Moderator Staff Supporter Contributor

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    That sounds like pure bliss :read:

    I think another mistaken belief writers seem to perpetuate is the idea that you only have 1 line or 1 page to grab the reader. So many critics would toss a piece of work away and say "well I don't care about the character". Making writers awfully nervous thinking they must achieve everything with a few sentences or it's boring. I remember at one point I got annoyed and I thought, "Well, by picking up the book, you've shown interest. I think it's fair to ask the reader to have a bit of patience to give you at least a few pages to establish things and tell the story."

    That's why I would start a story the way you intend to continue in terms of pace and tone. It's about attracting the right reader.
     
  23. Mckk
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    Mckk Moderator Staff Supporter Contributor

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    But Dan Brown sucks lol :blech:

    Like, there's certainly no doubt that slower, detailed, lengthier writing takes more skill than plain, short writing. Cus if it's short and a little dull, the reader will probably forgive it cus it passes quickly. If it's long and boring then you're in trouble :crazy:
     
  24. Lemex
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    Lemex That's Lord Lemex to you. Contributor

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    Well, Dan Brown is an atrocious writer. I must admit I really enjoy reading his books, they are huge fun - they are like bad 90s action films starring Jean-Claude Van Dam. He has skill as a story teller - but as a writer of English: putting well-constructed and good sentences on the page, and then putting them together, he's pretty dire.

    He's getting better! Inferno, his most recent attempt is interesting, because there are moments in it where you can see something beautiful wanting to come through. The story's total hockham, I barely even remember what it was, but his actual writing is improving.

    What you said of Dan Brown can be compared to the artistic core of Inferno, Dante, who's great epic poem The Divine Comedy is a 600 page religious journey. That thing is often hailed as the single greatest work of literature ever written. Yeah, seriously.
     
  25. EdFromNY
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    EdFromNY Hope to improve with age Supporter Contributor

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    This!

    The desire to be traditionally published brings with it a painful balancing act. We obsess about word counts and gripping openings, not because the reader MUST be absolutely enthralled by the second paragraph or is likely to be repelled by anything over 100K words, but because the gatekeepers of traditional publishing are compelled to narrow the field in order to make the selection process easier. Obsessions about genre are similarly the concerns of those who wish to easily market the work (and, in fact, some of my favorite books are those that defy classification).

    BTW, when I give up on a book, it is always with the greatest reluctance. My tendency is to want to give the writer and the story a chance. Recently, I was reading Richard Price's The Whites, a crime novel (not my usual thing) that had been well reviewed in the NY Times. It was well written, but there were aspects of it that I found disturbing, and by the time I was 100 pages in, I realized I wasn't enjoying it very much and I started arguing with myself about maybe turning to something else, but was still plugging on when I misplaced the book. Choice made (and, yes, I know what Freud would have said about THAT).
     
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