Revising Leah

June 8, 2008

To Cut Or Not To Cut

Filed under: Uncategorized — J.M. Reep @ 11:39 am
Tags: , , , ,

I’ve mentioned before how one of my tasks in this revising project is to cut out a lot of the fat that clings to the text — to cut those tedious passages that don’t contribute anything to the story and just take up space. Cutting text from a story can be hard to do because, as a writer, I know I’ve spent a lot of time on everything that I’ve written. To delete something is to judge my work worthless, in a sense. But I know that if I want to improve the novel, I need to get rid of those passages that slow the reader down, get off the subject, or detract from the story more than contribute to it.

Most of my deletions, when they occur, have consisted of a paragraph or less. However, chapter fifteen poses a problem for me because it seems like the entire chapter could be cut. It’s one of the shorter chapters, only six pages long, and it describes Leah moping around the house on the Saturday of her school’s Homecoming dance. As I tend to do in other tedious passages that I have deleted, I describe in boring detail Leah’s entire day, offering hour-by-hour updates of her doing . . . nothing, really.

If this were a much shorter passage, I probably wouldn’t think twice about deleting it, but because this is an entire chapter, I’m a little more hesitant. The decision to cut an entire chapter from a novel is not one that I should take lightly. Reading through the chapter, I keep two questions in mind: 1) Is there anything here that I definitely need to keep, anything that is interesting or crucial to the story? and 2) Is the material that I wish to cut really superfluous?

The second question is a little bit easier to answer in some places. In one passage in the chapter, I describe Leah trying to get a hold of the newspaper’s sports page to check the score of the Homecoming game while she does household chores for her mother. It’s a rather ridiculous passage that might, at best, contribute a little to the reader’s understanding of the Leah’s character, but not really. I think if I cut it, nothing important would be lost. The chapter also seems superfluous because I end chapter fourteen with Leah imagining herself spending Saturday night alone while David and Heather are at the dance. I don’t think I need to have Leah imagine a scene where she is alone and then in the very next chapter play that scene out pretty much as she imagines it. It is far more economical to leave chapter fourteen as it is — and maybe flesh out Leah’s imagination of what she’ll be doing Saturday night a little bit more — and cut chapter fifteen.

So what I have done is read through chapter fifteen, highlighting in green the passages that I want to keep (there were only two such passages). I’ll blend those passages into the previous or following chapters and then delete the rest of it.

UPDATE: Cutting chapter fifteen reduces the novel to 246 pages and 24 chapters.


1 Comment »

  1. I’ve often thought that writing isn’t really about writing – it’s really about thinking, and getting our thoughts in order!

    When I’ve had a tough edit, I just write a few words as a heading above each paragraph to summarise what the paragraphs are about/saying. Then make sure they’re in the right order. Then the tough part – do the paragraphs need to be longer than the heading? Sometimes they don’t, but editing is difficult because we get too attached to our own wonderful words . . . .

    I guess I should end here?

    Comment by catchthevision — June 8, 2008 @ 12:05 pm

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