Saturday, April 2, 2011
It's a word that strikes fear into the heart of writers. A nameless fear, named cutting.
Cutting is probably our least favorite thing to do, as writers. After all, we write--which basically implies an increase of words. Not a decrease.
Most of us really, really don't like cutting. I sure don't. A writer's pride is his or her word count: I say, "How's the novel coming?" You say, "Good, I wrote a couple thousand words yesterday." And yet, to take away words from a novel is almost a horrific thing. The whole goal of writing a novel seems to be in danger.
Instinctively, I suspect most of us shy away from cutting. "It's for long-winded writers," we say. Most beginning writers start out with humble words counts, right? Why would we decrease these already meager amounts? (No offense to anyone.)
And yet, sometimes it's needed.
"What, Jake?" you say. "I can barely keep my word count up. I need to expand, not cut!"
That may be true, but nonetheless there are times where it is needed. Generally, writers cut for one of three reasons (if not a combination of any of them).
First, because the scene is useless. Why would you write a scene about little purple butterflies doing a interpretive dance around a blossoming tree when your character is drowning in an underground pool? This example is a little extreme, but you see what I mean. Some scenes are simply not needed. Sometimes they are there to increase your word count, and they don't actually add anything to the novel.
For instance (a slightly more relevant example), you may write a scene about your character talking to a man about the protests going on in a different city. While the information may be interesting, and world-building, unless it is relevant to the plot and affects it in some way, the scene isn't needed. If it introduces some information, however, that is needed later in the novel (or even in a sequel), the scene is fine. If the scene in which the character is told/shown the information is lengthy, you may want to consider introducing it in a shorter scene.
The second reason writers usually cut is because the scene isn't relevant to the situation, for whatever reason.
In my novel Revolution, I wrote half of chapter three in a word war on Facebook. However, since I didn't have much time to think about it, I wrote it in Tevas' POV. [Tevas is one of my important characters]. However, this character is meant to have the "mysterious and seemingly all-knowing" feel. Writing in his POV makes creating this aura much harder. And besides, the writing in this case wasn't that good, either. ;)
So I cut it. Instead of describing all that the character did, I implied that he did it, and then moved on to another POV. The scene wasn't relevant to what I wanted to do--the situation and the characters made it necessary to cut that scene and find a different way to do it. Another example may be certain scenes' placement. Does this scene increase or decrease the tension from the last one? Is it really needed to increase the tension, or should I cut it to keep the scene sharp? Usually, writing an intense battle scene with high stakes and then heading off to a peaceful scene in a green field (with lots of fluffy sheep!) is not a good way to write.
And sometimes writers cut for the third reason: bad writing.
Sometimes the only thing to do when a scene is dragging and your hands are heavy is to push the delete button and start over. Make the plot go a different way. In Sadaar, I had a large chunk I was supposed to write where the characters travel. Traveling scenes are usually a writer's graveyard. And the writing was not going well--due to the content I was writing, the quality of my writing took a fell swoop downward. So I cut a bit and added in a string of plot that wasn't there before to lighten it up. Not only did this cutting result in an increase of word count, I added a more interesting element to an otherwise boring scene.
So remember: uselessness, irrelevance, and dragging writing are the three main reasons a writer may cut.
Do you have any other reasons you usually cut? Shoot me a comment. :)