My lilac is overgrown…obviously. This Dwarf Korean Lilac should only grow four to five feet tall. We’ve pruned it, but the extra care only makes it come back stronger, fuller and taller. Needless to say, the lilac is on its way out.
Sometimes our manuscripts can get overgrown as well. We tweak a phrase here or there, replace passive verbs with active ones and cut a handful of adjective and adverbs.
In the end, however, we are reluctant to cut too much and struggle to know what to keep and what to throw.
A beautiful turn of phrase. A tense scene with great characterization. Drama, action, romance, description, dialogue…sheesh, we wrote those things for a reason and now you’re asking us to pull out the shears?
Yeah, that happens. I know, because I just cut an entire chapter, leaving only two paragraphs in tact. Quite honestly, it was one of my favorite chapters. I’d loved the interplay between my two leading characters. I loved the tension. I loved so much about it, but upon an astute observation by Agent Awesome, I realized I gained nothing that other chapters didn’t already cover. They just did so differently.
As much as I hated the idea of ruthlessly chopping this section, the first three chapters are much stronger. I’d stripped my manuscript of the non-essentials and pared it down to find the gems hidden among the bulk.
Yet another manuscript of mine–an earlier one–didn’t look so great upon a deep editing look. It boasted no inherent gems. On the surface, I’d penned some great prose. The story flowed well, but the trunk didn’t support the branches. My characters we not fully fleshed out. My plot was a little too predictable. My solution too pat. A cliché hidden behind pretty words. The question still remains: to trunk it or cut it back to the ground and let it regrow from the roots up?
When I scoped out my lilac bush from the back, I found three balls tucked into the branches. My boys were in heaven. “Dude, that’s where my football went!”
Editing isn’t much different. “Dude,” we might say after some careful/vicious pruning, “that’s what I meant to say in the first place!”
Have you ever really peeked inside your manuscript? If so, what have you found: a rotten trunk with bare branches or unexpected treasures hidden by the fluff of extra words?
Trimming manuscripts is hard. To me it’s like pointing out a flaw in one of your kids. Then you see it’s not so much a flaw as something they needed to outgrow. I think writers are the same way – growing pains and all. (Hugs)Indigo
You make a great point about the emotional impact of editing. It can be one of the hardest things to gear ourselves up for, yet you so gently pointed out that if we take our editing to heart, we can, and do, grow as writers.
Thanks for sharing this perspective!
I hadn’t been able to give my wip any serious attention in a while with work and family, etc. Then, I finally decided to take it out and dust it off. I’d been thinking of creating an outline for it, since I hadn’t done one, and once I started, I found so many places for improvement! I even completely changed my antagonist! I’m so much happier with it now.
Pruning (editing) is a vital tool…I think we should always take a second look at things to see what gems we can find. Great post, Cate!
Sometimes it’s fun to find freshness in our past words. Dusting off manuscripts and looking at them again is never a bad thing, as we often don’t realize how much good stuff we really do have to work with.
I’m so happy for you in finding the gems within your story. Best luck as you continue through the editing process.
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