Wednesday, February 24, 2010

No Tears, No Dice


I may have posted this quote before, but I think it is awesome enough for a second run.

What lasts in the reader's mine is not the phrase but the effect the 
phrase created: laughter, tears, pain, joy. 
If the phrase is not affecting the reader, what's it doing there? 
Make it do its job or cut it without mercy or remorse.
~ Isaac Asimov

I love, LOVE, this quote. Cutting material is one of the hardest parts of writing. Especially when the stuff you are cutting isn't bad. Sometimes it's really good stuff! But it may not be doing its job for one reason or another and has to go.

When I started out writing (for the purpose of publication, in any case), I had pages - a LOT of pages -  that I needed to cut in order to get the pace of my story moving. It wasn't bad stuff. Most of it was description. Really beautiful description (if I do say so myself *ahem*). But it didn't do anything for the story. It wasn't needed to help the plot along. In fact, I was describing rooms of a house that the character would never go in. It certainly didn't evoke any kind of response in my readers, except perhaps boredom, which I REALLY wasn't going for.

So, it got cut.

Now, that was a more clear cut case - but I've had instances that weren't as easy to spot. I had a conversation in my last book that I really loved. I thought it was funny and showed a playful moment between two of my characters. It didn't move the plot along - meaning, it wasn't introducing any new information about the stsoryline. But I ended up leaving it in the book, with a few tweaks. I did change it up a bit so that there were some plot-moving elements. The main reason I left it in the story was because, after taking a poll of all my readers, I found it was evoking the response I was going for. The parts of the conversation that weren't helping to evoke that response got cut. The stuff that worked, stayed.

Have you had material that you've really loved that you had to cut because it wasn't producing the desired response?  Were you able to save it or did it end up in the great red-marked chop pile in the sky?


Michael Rivers said...

It's so hard to edit/cut material. Especially when you feel it's really good/strong. Sometimes it IS good "stuff." But, it might not belong in that place.

I've started to tell myself that nothing is ever wasted. If I cut some material from one piece, it doesn't mean I won't find the perfect fit for it someplace else!

Michelle McLean said...

Very true. In fact, I have a whole file of cut material that I dip into from time to time :)

L.T. Elliot said...

I've had to cut it and it stayed cut. I've also had the fortune of tweaks that helped keep things in their perspectives and bring emotion. But those cuts! No wonder they call them that because I feel bled!

Elana Johnson said...

Oh, I've cut more than I want to admit. Luckily I have a really big hard drive and three computers. I wish I were kidding. I cut and cut and cut, and now it doesn't hurt as much.

Jemi Fraser said...

I cut a LOT out of the ms I've got marinating. In fact I think it's about half the original side - so far :)

This ms is much tighter in the first draft!

Kathy McIntosh said...

I cut about 15,000 words from my last novel. Ouch. But I save it and hope I'll find somewhere for it to go.
Just had a beta reader tell me last night that she wished I'd included more description and more back story. Double ouch! That's a lot of what I cut. Different tastes, I guess.

Anissa said...

I've had to cut a lot of material I liked, some I even loved. But the point of my rewrite was to make the story stronger. It needed to go.

Love the quote!

Faith Imagined said...

I've gotten good at cutting. I write something so beautiful, and I feel the Holy Spirit say to take it out.

I've learn to just be obedient because God always knows best!

Marcia said...

Wonderful quote. In general, I love to cut, but there are certain things that are tough. Like you, I dip into the "cut pile" for other projects, and also the rejected mss. pile. I try to take the attitude that if I'm reluctant to cut something because it's particularly well written, then I can also write good stuff that will serve the story better.

elizabeth said...

There was a scene that I truly loved and thought it was a masterpiece as I wrote it. I wanted a point to get a cross to my readers through a dialogue between two of my characters.

When I went back to edit that book, I wrinkled my nose. I thought it was nice, but it didn't REALLY help the story. I happily cut it out. But that happens when I am intimately disconnected from my story for a long time. It's easy to trim and chop and hack.