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?
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?