I’m hidden away in the revision cave, but I’ve asked my fellow Erin Murphy Literary Agency folks to help entertain you guys over the coming weeks. So today, welcome Michelle Ray, who’s here to give us permission to cut cut cut!
Cutting Ruthlessly (Like Hamlet Through That Curtain-thingy)
I recently decided to turn a historical fiction novel that I’d written for adults into a YA novel. It’s a sweeping drama that takes place over years and across continents with plagues, pirates, sieges, etc. I thought the biggest challenge would be cutting out the often-gruesome content. Turns out the biggest concern was its length. 117,000 words. To make the switch, it needed to be roughly 80,000 words. Gulp.
So . . . what to do about those pesky extra 25,000+ words?
Cut like a crazy person.
Cut like Hamlet hopped up on revenge.
I refer to Hamlet because this post’s title, “Cutting Ruthlessly,” made me think of Hamlet lunging at the curtain behind which he thought his murderous uncle stood. It seemed the perfect revision image.
“But each of my words is so awesome,” you say. “And I spent all of that time thinking of each one.” Yes, yes. Sorry about that. But something must go!
Cut after time has passed.
Look at them dispassionately. It really, really helps when I’ve put the project aside for a while. Even after a few days I’m less attached. Give me a few weeks, and I slash more readily because I’ve forgotten the work that went into the creation.
Cut like they aren’t your own words.
Stop hesitating and fighting. But how to choose?
Imagine you hadn’t written it. What would you think? Is a section boring you? Then it’ll bore a reader. Can you do without that adjective? Description? Anecdote? If so, buh-bye.
What if you choose wrong? In Hamlet, after all, behind the curtain thing-y was his girlfriend’s dad and not his murderous uncle anyway. Hamlet made a huge mistake!
Stop worrying and cut, but . . .
Cut and check the results.
Save your drafts. Use the mark-up feature. Ask for others’ opinion on whether the cuts improve or weaken the piece. You can change your mind. Then go find something else to remove.
Cut the beginning.
Jump even further into the action than you thought possible. With this last revision, I started on page 57. This helped a lot. I was able to use my favorite bits from the original beginning for flashbacks, which, it turns out, can get to the heart of the matter with far fewer words. Give it a try.
In the end, hopefully it’ll be more “happily ever after” than blood-soaked tragedy, but you’ll never know until you begin the slash of the sword – er, delete key.