Daily Archives: September 28, 2011

The Chopping Block

I went back to my story yesterday for about a half hour. I realized part way through that little chunk of time that everything I had there could be condensed into one chapter instead of three. That will be my next project. That goes back to the “omit needless words” advice. A lot of what I had there isn’t strictly necessary. What is necessary is to a: resolve the story in an effective manner and b: hook the reader into book two. What I saw is probably the closest thing to a growly bit as I have seen in my first draft — which is to say a part that made me growl. It also made me bored. If it bored me, it will bore readers, and that’s just silly.

The chopping block has to do with the next bit of advice from The 25. Observe:

6. Pace
Much of screenwriter William Goldman’s wonderful Adventures in the Screen Trade can be applied to other types of writing. Goldman advises getting into each scene as late as possible, and out of it as early as possible. Faulty pacing in almost any work can be corrected with this advice.

There’s no need to begin scenes by laboriously explaining how characters arrived there, or to open an article or essay with excessive setup or introduction. If you find you’ve done this, chances are a more interesting way to begin follows just after what you’ve written. Similarly, many writers put an empty paragraph at the end of a scene or section. When revising my novels, I experiment by cutting the first and last paragraph of each scene. Suddenly, a sequence that dragged can become   speedy. Arrive late in a scene and leave early. The reader will fill the gaps.

A lot of time, the chopping block can solve pacing issues. The pace of a story is what keeps the reader turning pages. It adds momentum or gravity — how much extra junk you add in determines which of those it is. The end of my story is weighed down by excessive words, and taking it to the chopping block will cut down on the extraneous forces keeping its velocity low. It has enough strength to propel itself where it needs to be.

I’ve said this before, and I will say it again now: trust the reader. The reader can fill in the gaps. A few well-placed comments in the narrative can help them connect the dots without having to do a full detail sketch of everything around. This goes back to precision in writing — an artful choice of words instead of an avalanche.

I realized reading the last few chapters that I had inserted things I just wanted to get out there. Which is fine. That’s what a vomit draft is for — getting things out instead of holding them in. The point of the second draft, however, is cleanup. It’s weighing and deciding if you’ve tied a few extra pounds of words to your story that will sink it to the bottom instead of allowing it to move forward.

Stephen King says that when he writes the second draft, he cuts the first by ten percent. I think that is fair, and it’s my goal to do just that. It’s not always easy, but there is a certain amount of relief that comes with it. A sense of freedom rises when you finally understand that you’ve had long passages hanging on each of your arms and legs for so long that you’ve forgotten how movement was supposed to feel. Cutting them off brings about a euphoria of weightlessness that allows your story to go where it wanted to go anyway.

Let your story run. You just follow it — the readers will too.

%d bloggers like this: