Cutting the Fat from a Novel Draft

August 6, 2014

It's time to cut twenty thousand words from my manuscript.  Here to help me through this difficult time is Ali Luke, writer, blogger and coach over at Aliadventures.com.

I'm using her post Four Ways to Cut Your Novel's Draft (and Make Your Story Stronger) to further edit my (fourth? fifth?) draft of Deep Down, the contemporary erotic romance that I pitched at nationals this year.

Deep Down is currently a behemoth at 111K words.  Thar she blows!  I would like to get her down to between 85K and 90K, a more manageable, marketable length for a first-time novelist like me.

Clincher? I'd like to finish cutting in the next three days.

I've trimmed lots of fat from this story already: a Mr. Miyagi-like sushi chef mentor, a quixotic boat mechanic from Maine, a mousy beleaguered sous chef who does all the work while the celebrity chef gets all the credit.  Delicious, but not essential to the plot.

I'm not sure where to go from here.  My sex scenes are the next logical place to go.  They tend to sprawl.  I also find that I overdo physical descriptions.  In my defense, my hero was inspired by Henry Cavill in Man of Steel. Bearded, shirtless, smoldery, etc.

Henry Cavill on the set of Man of Steel.  Image from thinkhero.com.

Anyhow, here's an except from Luke's very helpful post.  Today I'm hunting big game--whole scenes that can be cut before I take out my scalpel and start trimming sentences.

Start with the biggest, chunkiest pieces of story: scenes.
(Why? Because if you start cutting individual words, you’ll end up later deleting a bunch of perfectly worded – but ultimately pointless – scenes.)
For me, there are two parts to this:
a) Look for any scenes that don’t advance the story. Ask yourself,could I delete this scene and not lose anything meaningful?”
Don’t keep a scene just because it adds depth to a character: unless it’s really part of the plot (or at the very least plays into your theme), you can get rid of it. Use other scenes to deepen the characterisation instead.
Don’t keep scenes because they’re “boring but necessary”. You can simply cut or summarise them: readers don’t expect you to show every moment in your protagonist’s life.
b) Look for scenes that are repetitive. Ask yourself, “could I combine these two scenes into one?"
Sometimes, you’ll have good reason for repeating something – but make sure there’s sufficient variation that the reader isn’t bored.
Personally, I often find I have two or three similar scenes for no good reason: I wrote them months apart, but in the manuscript itself, they might only be separated by a few chapters. I can combine the best bits of them and lose the rest.
To help me through this difficult time, I'm turning also to Boys II Men.

Click here for the video.  You might need some tissues.