Monday, January 9, 2017

How to Edit: What Details to Cut, What Details to Keep

In some stage in your editing process, you will find that you've got your story down and you know exactly how the beginning, middle, climax, and end are supposed to play out, you've got your world set up and your characters straight. The relationships between characters are so clear you can tell them to anyone.

Now you need to get rid of those details that hold the story back.

But how do you distinguish that from the details that you actually need?

Here's how.

Look at chapter one. No, not the prolog (or prologue), the first chapter because that's where your story actually starts.

It's helpful if you have a character log completed with all their quirks, likes, and dislikes, relationships with other characters or family members, or a separate document where you have all the places in your world written down.

Go through chapter one. You are the author. You know exactly how character A acts and you know exactly which actions of theirs' is the one that gets them in a predicament that moves the story forward. So, if you have a scene where they are just walking down the road and singing a song, cut it out.

UNLESS, unless that song will appear later as a significant part of that character A. Maybe it was a song their dying mother sang and it has some special meaning to her and her clan embedded with a secret code? You are the writer, you would know whether "The Itsy Bitsy Spider" is significant or not.

If you have a scene where a brother and sister of character A are having a bickering, cut it out.

UNLESS, character A gets involved in that bickering. If they get involved, it shows the reader the character of character A. Do they stop the fight by yelling angrily or do they calm the fight to find out what was the matter?

Do you see what I'm doing here?

Cut out the details.

UNLESS, it contributes to the story or it shows the reader what kind of character your character has or, it shows the culture of your world.

Now, the last one is a little tricky. Showing the culture of the world can well contribute to the story but if you're not careful, it can also hold it back.

So let me make this clear. The culture of the world, you have to decide which ones are important BUT don't include it just because you think it's interesting or you want to boast to the reader by showing how creative you are.

For example, your story is about a boy (Main Character) and a dragon (who are only male) becoming friends.

The world is a world where dragons have long ruled the skies. So, talking about a bit of history between dragon and men would contribute to the story.

BUT going into detail and talking about how one dragon went down to men disguised as a human

and fell in love with a girl...

but they couldn't be together so both died Romeo and Juliet style...

and then after that it wasn't uncommon that a dragon would fall in love with a human girl...

does not contribute to the story.

Yes, it is interesting that that happened Writer but what we care about is the boy who is the Main Character and his friendship with Mr. Dragon.

Those Interesting Tidbits, as I call them, can be saved for another story. You can write a side story any time you want. Make a log if you like of Interesting Tidbits and one day perhaps, you can focus on them and write a story where those details are crucial.

In the mean time, keep with your story. Be brutally honest with yourself. If it doesn't contribute to the story, tell something important about the Main Character that the reader should definitely know, or show the culture of the world but only parts that will contribute to the story, then cut it out.

And how do you cut it? Well, you just select and delete, select and delete. If you really, really wanna keep it, cut and paste it elsewhere.

As for details mentioned in a conversation, I will talk about that in another post.

So let's summarize the main points.

How to choose details to cut out of your story:

You only leave details that contribute to your story.

The details you leave must be ones that tell the reader something important about the MC.

The details you leave must be ones that show the culture of the world.

Yet, any detail must contribute to the story.

Bottom line is that ANY detail must contribute to the telling of the story.

How to be Brutally Honest with yourself:

You are a writer. You can come up with very, very interesting details about your characters or about your fictional world. Yet, not every detail is important to the telling of the story.

Cut it out.

It you really can't get rid of it forever, cut and paste it elsewhere. No one said you have to get rid of your great ideas completely.

If you have any questions or think, "hey, what about this?" feel free to leave a comment below :)

Happy Writing! :D

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