Lately my novel has given me plenty of cause for concern, especially ever since I neared the midpoint. It was about that time I realized I was writing a long first draft, especially a long first half, and thus it would either require rearranging or significant cutting.
I don’t like cutting, but I would rather have a novel people want to read than a bunch of things that don’t belong in the story or a flabby middle. But, as I’ve mentioned before, when I write, I tend to write long. I tend to meander through my scene until I get my feet under me and then I can narrow down the focus in later drafts.
Right now I have 114,535 words in this second draft of Spurn the Moon. This creates a bit of a problem, as I’m just now nearing my climactic scene, which should occur around the 90K mark for a 100K word novel. Which means my story is probably going to clock in around the 125K mark.
The frustrating thing is that I stepped back from this project and outlined everything. I have a solidly structured outline. I just suck at adhering to word counts. Or maybe I just want to pack too much stuff into a novel or scene, and so I end up with a long-winded, meandering scene that takes forever to get to the point. We could say I’m a bit of a pack rat when it comes to themes and subplots and plot ideas. If one is good, two or three is better, right?
Cutting extra words from my novel will be as easy as cuts can be, but cutting extra plot points or subplots is never quite as simple. In that case you have to decide whether or not it truly adds to the story, then untangle it from the story in a way which leaves the remainder of the story intact and stronger for the removal, like excising a cancerous tumor.
But let’s face it, cutting fat from a novel is one of the best ways to strengthen it. Instead of making your reader wade through layers of insulation to get to the heart, you remove that excess and give it to them straight. You make it easier on the reader by removing the things keeping them from the important story.
But how do you know what constitutes “fat” and what is the “meat” of the story? It takes a lot of practice, is the short answer. The long answer is that everyone struggles with this concerning their own work. It’s difficult to see where you can trim, and it’s hard to be objective. That’s why an editor comes in so handy.
Here are a few things to ask yourself.
Does this scene further the plot?
Does this scene create conflict, allow reaction after conflict, and/or push the MC toward the climax of the novel?
If this scene concerns a subplot: does the subplot advance the main plot in any way?
Is this information that is repeated elsewhere?
Is this a scene which strengthens my theme?
Are all of my characters unique and bring something unique to the story? Can any character be removed without a change to the plot? Would the story be stronger if I removed a character?
Can I strengthen this scene in any way? Can it do double-duty for me or create more conflict and drive the plot further?