I know, I know. I’ve done it plenty of times myself.
Scenario: you’ve just written your masterpiece, your opus. You’ve sculpted your humanity into a brilliant, soul-searching, beautiful piece of writing. You’ve written something amazing, something that the world will fawn over, that will make millions of readers worldwide gasp, cry, and pray.
If you’re anything like me, you read it through, instantly feel your ego inflate, and then embark on a quest to find that particular editor who will love your astute understanding of the human condition. And if you’re anything like me, you’ve probably written about twice as much as you should have. Endless scenes, descriptions, and even characters are cluttering up your beautiful little baby, but you just can’t stand to clean it up a little bit, because it’s perfect the way it is.
But we are not talking about a baby here. We’re talking about words on a page. And maybe I’m wrong, maybe your story IS perfect in every single possibly way imaginable. But unless you’re JK Rowling or Stephen King, you’re going to have to prove it to me before I believe that you’re a muse.
So what are you to do? You realize that your beautiful little newborn is faulty, perhaps carrying a little too much dialogue, setting, or heaven forbid, character development. Can you trim it down? Yes, you can. And yes, you should.
Have you ever heard that brevity is the soul of wit? A good writer can write a beautiful story in a single paragraph. While it could take a terrible write an entire book to evoke the same images doesn’t mean that someone necessarily wants to read all of that. And then there are stories with no words at all.
Do you want to know why this works? Why they are so iconic? Besides being so short (and tragic) they are stories full of blank space. And readers love blank space, because it’s a chance for them to insert their own emotions and experiences. And one of the most beautiful pleasures of reading is identifying with what you are reading. And who are you, as an author, to take that away from them? Let your readers imagine the story, don’t shove it down their throats (coincidentally, I think that’s why many readers don’t like the movie-representations of their loved books; it takes away the imagination. For example, I can’t read the first five of the Harry Potter books without thinking about how amazingly hot I find Rupert Grint to be).
So, shave that baby down. Cut away. And if that sounds too painful for you, than here are my tips on how to make it easier.
1. Ask someone else: It’s always easier to do what you’re told, and not what you know you’re supposed to do. Besides, it’s easier for someone else to realize how painful a 20 page long dream sequence is if you’re biased to think it’s essential to your book.
2. Make an outline for your book: As mentioned above, it’s hard to remember all the details of a 20 page long dream sequence without an outline.
a.Put your book in outline form, or
b.even short chapter descriptions,
c.to give you an idea of what you’re focusing on
d.in the story, and what doesn’t necessarily add to it.
3. Edit, edit, edit: read through your writing until you begin to despise it.
I really hate writing sometimes. It’s only when you hate your work that you are truly unbiased and can find all the nitpicky flaws. Don’t let your love of writing make you keep EVERYTHING you’ve written.
4. Store it away for later: If you just can’t bear to get rid of something, highlight it in red and leave it. Highlighting it reminds you that at some point, you had a problem with that passage. Later on, if you decided you really liked the writing, you can still keep it in. But what usually ends up happening is that it will get put where it belongs: in the recycling. (or if it’s a really good passage, copy and paste it into a document meant exclusively for scenes that you haven’t found stories for yet. It’s a great little place to go whenever you’re in need of creative inspiration later on!)