So you have completed your first draft. Fresh from the rush of getting the story all down in one place and having typed those magical words “THE END” you start – what is for most writers – the most time-consuming part of the business.
Editing your manuscript.
I have heard this element of the process described as “creative bookkeeping”. That sounds a little clinical to me. I find this part takes a lot less creative energy than first drafting (which has become increasing harder). Everyone is different.
The general idea is simple – get rid of what you don’t need, what does not serve the story. The unnerving thing is that so much of the writing process is instinctive, how can you really know what you’re turfing out isn’t crucial on some level you cannot perceive?
Some things are straightforward, like streamlining sentences and paragraphs. Some scenes can be cut without too much of a qualm. Beyond that you are down to collapsing characters into each other, or losing some completely. This is the sort of thing that gives me the shivers. Have I gone too far? Was that character the oddball quirk that could make this noticeable to an editor?
I came to grips with this when I was editing my manuscript, Warriors of the Blessed Realms. As is typical for me, the thing had bloated up 10,000 words from the earlier edits – up to a shocking 160,000 words. That word total is like some sort of lodestone for me unfortunately. My challenge was to get this down to 120,000 words or less. Ouch. I did manage it – but it was tough.
It was surprising how much I managed to remove by just trimming and condensing the text – at least a good 10,000 words – which is sort of embarrassing. Do I really write that sloppily? I guess it’s part of the process. At the time I hoped that maybe the writing gods have seen fit to increase my skills since I did the first draft.
I got the total down to 131,00o words doing the usual sorts of streamlining and scene-cutting. That in itself seemed like something of a miracle. I had not been able to do this without removing a few incidental characters and some other scenes which I guess weren’t that important to the story. It still hurt losing them! The thing that concerned at the time as I cut and cut and cut was – am I losing some essential essence from the story? This thought haunted me even more as I ground the total down even further to 120,000, losing even more scenes and another whole character.
What do people think? Can you chop too far? Make the story too spare? Too mechanical? Or is all-out war on the adjective and metaphor and storyline justified?