Rajdeep Paulus studied English Literature at Northwestern University and lives in New York with her husband and four princesses. Visit her website or connect with her via Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, or Instagram.
Be Brave. And Let it Go.
Most writers smile when asked if they like words. Ummm, of course! That’s why we write. We love the way words come together to express so much in so little space. The way one verb sums up a character’s exact motion. Or the way one line of dialogue says it all. And leaves the reader wanting more.
And we’re a little like super glue, aren’t we? We get attached to our words. Well, today, I’m here to challenge you and me both with the words from my editor who helped me polish, remake, redesign, redo, and rewrite Seeing Through Stones. Not once, not twice, but somewhere between four and five times. I say “between” cuz I’m all about that in between life. Ask Talia. She gets me. :)
But honestly, not until the fourth round, when I drafted an entirely new sequel to Swimming Through Clouds, did I get an email from the brilliant Beth Jusino that read something like, “Just want you to know that THIS is the RIGHT story and a great journey for your characters. More soon.”
Well, when “more” came, let’s just say, there was still much work to be done. So here are my top five tips when Editing your books and working to find the best story you’re capable of telling. So put on your armor, lay down your pen, pick up your sword, and let’s get to cutting. To make room for the scenes and moments that can’t breathe. Yet.
1. Cut out any scene that repeats itself, especially when it comes to back story and flash backs. This was a really tough one, because I had about four really sad and sappy childhood stories for my character Jesse, but Beth said, you really only need one. The moment you introduce another one, you actually make the first one dim, and in the end you lose the power-packed element of surprise that came with the first scene. Of course I do what all pack-rat writers do so that I don’t have to stop and have a funeral. I copy and paste the scene into my “deleted pages” vault. Who knows? Maybe in the next book, I’ll need some inspiration for a scene and it might be waiting for me in that file. Probably not. But you never know. Makes you feel better that you didn’t totally erase those oh so precious words. ;)
2. Cut out any characters that sound like the same person. Or play the same role in the book. For example, if you have two friends of the main character that are equally there for her, they tend to compete for the readers’ attention and sympathy and they also start to sound alike. Then the reader gets confused by who did what and who said what to who. And if you’re like me, you start to mix up their names. For the record, changing one character’s hair color is not enough to change it up and distinguish him or her. Think long and hard what the role of each character is in your book. Roles could include conflict, humor, empathy, mother-figure, bff, jealousy, reflection, crush and so much more. And cameos need to serve a purpose too else rethink whether they are just clogging up and slowing down the story. One of my writer friends writes a ton of characters into her story, but she does this cool bio thing for each of the personalities she creates, really digging deep into their tastes, quirks, and even catch phrases. I’ve heard of other writers who journal in first person for each of their characters to “get to know” them. Lots of cool ideas out there to narrow down the cast of your book. Funerals can continue to be delayed. Cut. Open Deleted Pages File. Paste. Move on.
3. Cut out any repeated highly emotional responses. Whether that’s a character who is constantly jumping for joy or a heroine who cries every time she sees a puppy. It just gets old. And diminishes the power behind the anticipation of an emotionally charged scene. I’ll give you an example. There was a very sad scene that I worked on when I was getting to the closing scenes of Seeing Through Stones. I had no idea, until Beth humorously pointed out to me, that I had Talia cry. Then cry again. Then more crying. And then crying her eyes out. By the time the scene finished, Talia had spent pages and pages weeping. Poor girl had be dehydrated and readers don’t want to have the emotional ride stolen from them. Funny thing is, after reworking the scene, my husband was reading that chapter and noted, “You know, that scene was incredibly sad. But...Talia never cries. I would have thought that at some point, she’d be sobbing.” Ha. I had over-edited! So back went in a moment and a half of tears. Yep. Still learning.
4. Cut out the kiss. Kiss. And Kiss again scenes. I really mean it on this one. How often can you make the kissing scene amazing? If you write one into your story. And be careful not to drop it in so soon that there’s nothing left to build up to. I know that a lot of writers are moving toward NA and college-aged characters. I am just a strong proponent of romantic scenes and moments that don’t steal the thunder from each other. Less is more. Really it is. Leave a little room for the imagination and keep the romance age-appropriate, being mindful of your audience.
5. Finally, cut out the overuse of metaphors and poetic language. This one was probably the hardest for me, because I love a mean metaphor that encapsulates a character’s experience in a unique picture frame that no one has ever thought of before. But one per scene is enough. Overdo it, and it’s the same law of overkill that keeps rising. Less is more and more should we swept out the door. In the end, readers want a story. One that moves forward and takes the reader on a ride into a make-believe world. Muddy the road with too many “like a” and “as a” similes and a reader will forget what she was doing. And where you were trying to take her.
So I ask again, are you ready to do the hard work of writing? Because the easy part is pouring out thousands of word and scenes. Okay, that’s not easy, but it’s easier. The challenge comes when it’s time to edit. And rewrite. And delete. (I mean move to the deleted scenes file :) ) And rewrite some more. What you’ll find, and I know this comes with practice, when you courageously cut out scenes, characters, emotions, kisses, and metaphors, your story will breathe. And you’ll be able to find the holes where fresh scenes need to fill in the gaps of your story.
Believe me, it’s scary. Each time I started over, I had to take several deep breaths, pray down my fears and doubts, and trust that I alone knew my characters the best. Making me the best person to find their best journeys.
Are you ready. Set. Go. And in the words of my A-Mazing editor, Beth, “Be brave. And let it go.” The theme song from Frozen has been all over my life this year. Still love it!
Tell me, what challenges have you faced while editing? Do you have a “deleted pages” file? Did you shed any tears when you had to cut something out of your story?
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