February 21, 2010

Strip, Baby!

This week, I was given some writing homework. I had to create a scene map for Spellbound- a chart, essentially- breaking the story down chapter by chapter. I had to list every scene in one short sentence, then step back and ogle at my story... naked. Kim (my lovely and fabulous tutor) assured me that this would let me see what needed to be cut- identify what stuff is my story and what stuff just... isn't.

Have you ever been in a dressing room, twirling around in front of the mirror in a dress you really, really like? You saw it in the shop window and knew it would be perfect for that wedding/big date/thing you have going on next month. The thing is... it doesn't quite fit. It's the right size, but it doesn't hug you the way it should. More than that, it just isn't you the way you thought it would be. You don't want to believe it, so you start to justify: the price is right, you're tired of shopping, the cut of the sleeves looks nice on your arms. Say what you want... you know it isn't right. So strip off that sucker and start again!

That's editing. As soon as I had all my scenes down on paper, I was astonished how easy it was to see what needed to go. Chapter 3 involved my main character, Jack, sitting in a windowsill and thinking about life. I'm all for retrospective sitting, but he does it for three pages... and the thing with introspective sitting is that it can be, well, a little boring. Some of it is necessary, because it says a lot about Jack's desires and motivations, but a lot of it just... isn't. And until now, I couldn't bring myself to cut it. Why? Because... I liked it. I thought that sentences like 'They were like a stone dropped into water, sending strange symptoms rippling through the air' were pretty and thoughtful. They were some of the first words of Spellbound that I committed to paper, so they were special. They just didn't fit. So I cut them.

I've always found cutting a hateful process, but this time it actually felt quite good. Empowering, even. I was able to identify what I didn't need and actually make myself delete it without any angst. If that's not a step in the RIGHT editing direction, then I don't know what is.

2,210 words cut so far (and that's just from the first three chapters)- 2,210 words closer to finding that dress for Spellbound.


  1. Cuttings stuff is sooo hard. I need to do that with my story. Lay it out like that. There are parts that I had for good reasons in the beginning, but are now reasons that don't even make sense...other than "I like that part, I like how I wrote it" but now they need to go.

  2. That's the hardest part- deciding which stuff is STILL your story. I've cut a lot of sentences that I really liked, but that I realized were no longer helping me to tell the story. Try the scene map- it's a great tool!