Wednesday, March 19, 2014

5 Tips for Editing and Cutting Scenes from Your Story

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!

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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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AND more FUN: Enter a Mega March Madness-Giveaway for lots of fun book swag and a chance to win a $20 Amazon Gift Card.

For fun, here’s the TRAILER to Seeing Through Stones. My first ever! Enjoy!

Happy Writing Teens! You are the reason that I write!

35 comments:

  1. This was a fabulous read Rajdeep, I cannot wait to read the sequel of Swimming through Clouds.

    I recently took two of my characters out because they werent serving a purpose, and from one of them I could not even remember what he was called. I had to look it up so frequently that I realised something was utterly wrong there.
    Currently I am editting the story itself. I havent encountered many of the others yet, but that might be because I have not recognised the need for them yet. I am definitely going to keep it in mind. Thank you!

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    1. Hey Arlette!

      Thanks for sharing. That's pretty funny about not remembering the character's name that you ex'd. I have a terrible habit of changing my characters' names and inevitably leaving an old name in, after which a beta-reader will ask me, "Umm… who is Leah?"

      Excited to hear what you have to say about Stones!! Happy editing!

      -hugs,

      Raj

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  2. This is a really great post! When I edited a story that I wrote, I realized that it sounded pretty bad. The characters acted like little kids (when they were supposed to be 14) and it just could have been written a lot better! Now, the story is great and the characters actually act their age!

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    1. That's exciting, Alea!

      Have you had any friends read your story yet? That also helps me when I'm not sure if my characters sound male/female or too young or consistent with their personalities. Happy Writing! :)

      -Raj

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    2. I did share it with people! I am in the FLVS Creative Writing Club and it was my story for the short story workshop where everyone edits everyone else's short stories.

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    3. --Hold up.

      The FLVS CWC?! I'm super duper excited and jumping up and down right now because that club is awesome and GTW is awesome and I'm glad you found it, Alea!

      I'm in NIAC, you should join us some time :)

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  3. Super helpful post! Editing is always something I have trouble with. I do actually have a 'deleted files' folder, and I also like to save cut scenes as 'bloopers' or such. Thanks for the great post!

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    1. Thanks so much, Sarah!

      My youngest daugher is a Sarah. :) Editing is definitely the hard work of writing. And I'm glad to hear I'm not the only one with an every growing Deleted Files folder. Bloopers. Now that's a cool idea. Especially if your books get made into movies one day!

      -Raj

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  4. I have a huge deleted scene folder! Sometimes I hope to go back to it, but usually I find most of the scenes I cut out are unnecessary in the end. I have also on several accounts thrown characters out the window that really didn't have a purpose to the story; they just cluttered it, but then I usually end up coming with replacements that are SO much better and actually make my story more alive. :)

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    1. Hey Jessica!

      Sounds like you're on your way to being a very brave writer!! I go back and peek in the deleted scenes folder sometimes too, and for the most part, find out that those scenes were just distracting or would have never allowed me to take the story where it needed to go.

      Happy Writing!

      -Raj

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  5. Yep, I do have a Deleted Pages File, although it's not that huge. I think this five points are great! My editing meant until now: making the second characters a bit more alive and, above all, making a story from different scenes. But that first words you said (about being glued to your writing) were right: Sometimes I love those little gems that come on the page by something like magic! (And I was directly thinking of 'Frozen' when I saw that sentence ;))

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  6. Hi Arende!

    Thanks for coming on and sharing! Frozen's song has been my theme song all year! And I hear you on those little gems that are so hard to say goodbye to. I think we should officially name the deleted pages file, "My Secret TREASURE CHEST!" :)

    -Raj

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  7. Awesome post, Rajdeep! Thanks so much!
    Right now I'm editing, and haven't had to do much major cutting, but yeah, I have had to cut random things my MC, Janelle, says that really don't fit. *winks*
    Like Arende, I was also thinking of Frozen. *grins*

    TW Wright
    ravensandwriting.blogspot.com

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    1. Hi TW!!

      So glad you have an MC in your life!! WE all need those readers that we trust to tell us the cold, hard, truth. :)

      Happy Editing!
      -Raj

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  8. Thank you so much for the excellent, helpful post! I really enjoyed it and found it a blessing - especially since I'm currently editing my novel, Dreams Along the Shore. :) Oh, I laughed over the character crying and the dehydration comment! :D It's so true though; there are so many things that one doesn't notice while writing. With my novel Dreams, I had my friends reading it - and there were several times when they said, "Um, Patience . . .?" ;) And I'm like, "Oh, ridiculous! How did I miss that?" :)

    Hmmm, I guess the main challenge I've been faced with editing is looking at it with the mind of a reader or an editor, instead of with the mind of an author. Editing is hard. It feels like you're cutting off a part of yourself. It's hard work to make the pages bleed, to close one's eyes and slay it. :)

    I'm saving separate documents from every draft/revision, and I also do a deleted pages file - but I call it my "snippets"; can't even bear to call it deleted! ;)

    Thank you again for this post! It was a great blessing to me, and was equally helpful, encouraging, and enjoyable. It gave me a "boost" for my edits! :)

    Blessings,
    Patience

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    1. Hi Patience!

      Thanks for commenting and sharing your journey. Glad this little post gave you a "boost!" Love the title of your WIP btw! :) I think one of the best things you can do is walk away from the manuscript for a bit. Then when you come back to it with fresh eyes, it's not as hard to snip. snip. snip. :) And those honest readers!! Cannot put a price on someone who will tell you the truth!

      best,

      Raj

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    2. Aw, thank you for your kind words! :) I'm glad you like the title of my novel! This made my day. :) Yes, great point about setting aside the manuscript for a bit - I set mine aside for a month before beginning edits. Exactly! They're definitely awesome!! :)

      Thank you again!
      -Patience

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  9. Excellent post! I can identify with many of these suggestions. I especially like and recommend the "deleted scenes" file! SO much easier to paste a hunk of your story there rather than delete it! ;) I've found that chopping out the unnecessary parts gets easier with time and practice.

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    1. Yes, Beth.

      You nailed it. Time. Practice. I think these are our two best teachers!! Thanks for the awesome reminder.

      Hugs,

      Raj

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  10. I'm doing all of this right now! :) So hugely helpful and timely post for moi. Ehh...I think it's the metaphors that get me. My prose can go a bit purple if I'm not careful. I'm literally hacking thousands of words out of my manuscript. And it's nerve wracking because what if I cut something I needed?!! lol! Thanks for this post, Rajdeep!

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    1. So you and I should pool our misused metaphors and make a mega-book for those in search of one!?! Does that work for you, Cait? Kidding, but I so get the fear of cutting something that should have stayed. And the best news I have for you is that there's always that next story or next book that you can write. And hopefully, we get better at the process with each book we write.

      Happy Editing!
      -Raj

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  11. Sometimes, the best thing we've ever written may have no place in the book we're trying to write. I've seen this to be true in my own work - a certain scene may come alive but feel awkward in the context of the plot. But this makes it even harder to cut it out. Sometimes we need to make that difficult decision (which is also a humbling decision) for the end purpose of the book.

    http://cierahorton.blogspot.com

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    1. You are spot on, Ciera!

      Looking at the big picture. And when we think about movies and how fun it is for some of us to see the deleted scenes at the end, because we just didn't want the story to end. But then there are so many of them that you can totally agree with the editors… fun, but totally not necessary.

      Thanks for coming on with your insightful and challenging comments. :)
      -Raj

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  12. Cool post! I especially like tip number 5. I've definitely noticed way too poetic points in my stories that I have to cut. And I do have two Deleted Pages files that I call "Extras" and "Variations and Notes." I've never cried while cutting a scene, but I've wanted to. :p


    Alexa Skrywer
    alexaskrywer.blogspot.com

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    1. HI Alexa! Thanks for the shout out! I like the name of your deleted scenes folder. Extras. Sounds so much more hopeful than mine, which I call, surprise surprise, Deleted Scenes. :)
      -Raj

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  13. Loved this post. I actually like editing, deleting, and seeing my story become better. I have a folder that I keep all my scenes, plot ideas, unfinished stories, and such.

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    1. Hi Keturah!

      Okay, now that is seriously the prettiest name I've read all day! I hope you come back on and share your Naming story! :)

      Keturah. I might just borrow that for a future character, if that's okay with you! :)
      -raj

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    2. Thanks! No, I don't mind :b But if you do, I want to read the book....I've always thought it'd be neat to read a book with my name in it. There's a book called Princess in Calico that has a main character with my name, just spelled differently. My name is from Genesis 25:1. What do you mean by Naming Story??

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  14. This is a pretty brilliant bunch of advice. And I love how you accidentally cut out all the crying and your husband noticed!

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    1. Ha. Me too, Emii!

      I still laugh about it. He's actually a very "manly," but super-sensative fella. In fact, our kids crack up at us how often we're the first to tear up while watching Frozen or the Croods or Despicable Me. :)

      Happy writing!
      -Raj

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  15. What you have a scene that is central to a certain character in a series. Is it okay to have the character think about to more than once?

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    1. YES! Great question, Pgacn. :) But you want to be careful not to rewrite it the same way each time. Always think less is more. A scent. A word. A sharp corner of the table that reminds the character of a time he was cornered. Make sense?

      -Happy Writing,
      Raj

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  16. Thank you for the cheerful and helpful most, Mrs. Paulus. Can't wait until I can read Seeing Through Stones...I just re-read Swimming Through Clouds the other day. Gaaaah the feels...

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