Thursday, May 31, 2012

Dr. CutPaste (Or how I learned to stop worrying and love the Cut Folder)

You know when you reach that point when you're done editing? When you can't think of a single thing to fix in your manuscript and you've even had a few kind betas agree that the thing is ready for querying?

This happens after that.

At least, for me it did.

Even while querying, I knew my manuscript had a rather large flaw: the inciting incident happened after page 50. Somewhere around page 55, really. That was too late, and I knew it was too late. When I first started writing my book, I put the inciting incident as the very first scene, since I knew how important it was to get to it quickly. But, see, it's a fantasy, and early readers got lost. So I needed to spend some time world building, right? Sure I did. So I world-built for four chapters before the inciting incident.

And I knew that was wrong... but I could not for the life of me figure out how to fix it.

Until six months later.

Chapter two, I realized, didn't really need to be there at all. It was mostly an elaborate set-up so I could have my characters all sit around and discuss the world I'd built for them. It wasn't boring, per se, but it wasn't exactly exciting, for all that I tried to make it so.

Parts of chapter one, as well, weren't essential to the plot or to world-building, for all that I loved them and had edited the heck out of them for months on end.

So I started weeding.

First, I went through my manuscript and identified all the nonessential scenes, as well as scenes that had essential bits, but which didn't need to be there. Within my draft folder, I created a "Cut scenes" folder (never, never, nevernevernevernever permanently delete anything you've written--or what will you post in your "cut scenes" teasers for all your fans who can't get enough?). Within that cut scenes folder went documents with scenes that--um is it that they did or didn't make the cut? Either way, scenes that didn't need to be where they presently were got their own document in the cut scenes folder. It was actually quite cathartic. Go try it yourself. I'll wait.

Ready for the next step? So soon? Go cut some more. Trust me, you'll love it.

Source
Ready now? Good.

Next, ignoring the sad, holey state of the manuscript at large, I went through the cut scenes and highlighted parts that needed to be put back in. Backstory information. World building tidbits. Important moments that built character. Then I found them new homes. Mostly after the inciting incident.

Final step? Smooth it out. Make the grafts seamless. Read through it and make sure it all still makes sense in this brave new order.

The result? My inciting incident now happens around page 35. Twenty pages earlier.

Also, I permanently deleted 2,368 words. Many of them my darlings, but what can you do? Sadly, darlings are often born for the cut file.

Have you ever figured out how to cut 2,000 words from a "completed" manuscript?

15 comments:

  1. My cut folder currently has 14K words in it. It will get many, many more before this edit is over.

    ReplyDelete
  2. I'm following Snyder's beats theory. I'm wondering if THAT will put my inciting incident too late.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. It shouldn't. The inciting incident is the catalyst, right? I'm outlining my WIP with that and had to move my midpoint to the catalyst position do the fun and games could be after that.

      Delete
  3. Yeah. As soon as I saw the outline, I realized that part of the reason my story was starting so slowly was because I spent several scenes on my B story before I got to the catalyst. Switch switch. Duh.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Funny how that works, huh? My WIP has some of the same problems, dang it.

      Delete
  4. i would hope enough good cps would catch a major flaw before giving it a query send off? and i have done some big cuts and comebacks, too. i have a separate doc for my "deleted scenes" that way my wonderful words arent lost forever. i deleted a couple of chapters, may remove a third still! we'll see how it reads after this go thru!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I don't want to burst your bubble, but I had oodles of excellent betas and CPs. I'm guessing they were focused on the other flaws. :)

      Delete
  5. Instead of a cut folder, I keep different versions of my document with dates. That way I can show prior incantations. But since we are not done with WIP 1, we haven't got to this stage yet.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Oh, I do that, too. But when I sit down to edit the current draft, I almost always need a "Cut from WIP 3.0" file.

      Delete
  6. I don't save everything I cut, but big cuts, yes. And I have saved everything that I've emailed to my CP's so all kinds of crap...I mean...examples for later exist :)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I'm probably the same. I'll delete a sentence or a paragraph without saving it (unless it has vial info), but I usually still have it in the saved version of the last draft. :)

      Delete
  7. Very helpful; I'm just now determining which scenes move the story forward and which don't have enough conflict. Your process echoes what I've read on plotting in general. And I agree on saving. I cut a great paragraph that was all backstory from ch. 1 but it might work in snippets in later chapters.

    ReplyDelete
  8. I love having a document where I just put a bunch of things I want to cut from my story into. It helps me not to be so attached because I can always go back and retrieve those scenes again later if I decide that I actually do need them. And I never do go and retrieve them because I was right to cut them in the first place. It also allows me to look back and see how much I've improved my manuscript.

    ReplyDelete
  9. Nice that you seem to like the results. And I love the idea of the cut folder. It doesn't seem so much like a cut then. Like the scene is really just on vacation. Or, better still, will end up on the DVD extended version.

    ReplyDelete
  10. I tend to start on the low end of an appropriate word count & add rather than subtract. And since I write adult thrillers, that inciting incident needs to be within the first 3-5 pages. Talk about pressure! But I think YA audiences are much more patient & forgiving.

    ReplyDelete

Help prove the void can talk back...