deldarcy (deldarcy) wrote in torquere_social,

Writing: What to cut, what to keep

One of the really fun things about being in a writing group, either online or face to face, is learning about other writers' processes. Writing is such a matter of trial and error, and no matter how many books a writer reads or how much good advice she gets, it's still a matter of learning what works for each individual, alone with the word processor, the notebook, and the characters.

I seem to be developing into a writer who writes a lot on first draft, and then cuts stuff out during editing and rewriting. "Fair Catch" was more than twice as long as its published version in the first draft. Getting to the final version was a matter of three things -- figuring out the story's spine, breaking loose of some of the structural issues that I imposed on myself because of the nature of the plot, and deciding, mostly as a matter of pacing, which of the quieter, digressive scenes could stay and which had to go.

When I first decided to pitch the book to Torquere, I knew I had to cut it drastically. I knew it was objectively too long, and I also needed to meet Torquere's length requirements for their Prizm YA novels. Sometimes with a story, a writer vamps around, putting a bunch of extraneous stuff at the beginning of the story. I thought this might be the case with "Fair Catch." So I experimented with cutting out a bunch of the material that shows how Alex and Blake meet and fall in love, and played with starting the story when they are already together. But I decided against that in the end. I felt the reader would care more about the fate of their relationship if I showed the whole progress of how they got together. So, the first chapter remains very much as it was on the very first rough draft.

That decision helped make a later decision for me. It became clear that I should keep the story in chronological order. When I was toying with the idea of starting the book with their first fight, material that is now in Chapter 12 and 13, some of the material in early chapters would have shown up as flashbacks. But deciding to keep it all in chronological order made the overall organization much simpler.

The main issue I struggled with when rewriting was the fact that I had tied myself to the rhythms of the school year. High school is punctuated by traditional events. So is football season. But taking note of all of them in the narrative made the book too long, and gave some of the scenes a "marking time" feeling. The book was stepping through two whole high school seasons, instead of being driven by plot events. I had to decide what to skip and what to flesh out. I had to decide which key scenes advanced the plot and developed the characters, and one that was clear, I had to simply jump across periods of time that did neither. It feels kind of like jumping across a deep chasm when I do that. It takes a lot of nerve to summarize that grandly -- passing over weeks or months of time in one swoop, with just a few words.

By skipping over blocks of time in the narrative, I created another issue for myself. I had to make sure to fix some continuity errors that I had created, and for this I had the help of my editor, Elizabeth Brooks. Two things, for example, that I lost track of along the way and had to make sure I explained briefly were Alex buying a Jeep (which was a much longer section in earlier drafts, but became essentially irrelevant to the main spine of the story even though it showed some interesting interactions between Alex and his father), and how Celia and Jennifer got to know each other.

One fun digression that became a "deleted scene" that was published here as an extra was Alex's trip to New Orleans for the Sugar Bowl. It was a lot of fun to write, but in the end, it was a detour from the main story.

By the end of my second draft, I loved the characters so much that I would have sat and listened to them read the phone book. But that is nothing more than self indulgence on the part of a writer. Keeping the plot moving was of chief importance. I never wanted the reader to feel bogged down, and that question of plot became the most important thing I asked myself when deciding what to cut.

Buy 'Fair Catch'
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