21 July 2014

Editing Irony

Sometimes when you're editing your manuscript, you may think you know exactly what it needs. A certain idea may feel right, and you squeeze it in and move on, thinking that it fits in perfectly with the rest of the novel. But then when you go back and look again, does it still fit? What if the original draft was better than the new one?

Now, I'm not in any way saying that my first draft is better than my second. It's not. Not by a long shot. When I wrote the second draft, it was basically a line by line rewrite of the first. I moved around some scenes in the first few chapters, made the chapters shorter by having certain scenes stand on their own, but other than that, not much changed as far as structure goes. The events in the story still happened in the same order, and this draft was more about just making the writing better.

About a third of the way in, however, I found myself in need of a new scene. I had one scene for a chapter--a good scene, one of my favorites, actually. But it was only 2 1/2 pages. My chapters so far averaged about 4-6 pages each. I didn't think this particular scene could stand on its own, nor could I stretch it out without making it seem dull and boring--diluting it, basically. So I thought, hey, this is a great place for a brand new scene. I could sneak in some background info on a character that was long overdue, and wasn't there at all in the first draft.

So I wrote the new scene. It took me forever--about three weeks, actually. I couldn't really understand why I was having such a hard time. The dialogue was really hard to figure out for some reason, and I kept stopping because it seemed that the scene felt forced, and I really wanted to get it right. Well, eventually I did finish and kept going with the second draft until it was done. This was the only scene that was brand new--the only thing that there was no trace of in the first draft.

When I read through the second draft, I didn't like this scene. It did still feel forced, there was too much dialogue, and I was wondering if I needed it at all. I knew if I cut it, I would either have to write something new or do some drastic rearranging of scenes. But it just didn't feel right, and I didn't know if I could fix it.

It was easy to make the decision to cut this scene. The hard part was figuring out the hole it left. There were some elements in this scene that I thought I needed, and I figured out different parts of the book to move that to--places where they'll fit in better. And I realized that I needed that first scene to somehow stand on its own. I have no idea how yet, but I'll figure it out. I need to figure out a way to stretch it out without diluting it. I still want it to feel as strong as it does now.

The ironic part (I think...) is that the ONLY part that was brand new in the second draft is also the ONLY scene I am 100% cutting. Maybe I needed to write this horrible scene to figure a few things out, but in the end, it just didn't fit in. I wouldn't say that writing it was a complete waste of time, but I do find it funny how things turned out.


  1. Kerouac used to write one draft and he was done. I tend to write more like you do, although I don't think it's that productive. I think it's a matter of voice; if I write something that's really and truly coming from me in a voice I'm comfortable with, I find it doesn't need multiple drafts. When I'm trying to push the issue and be something I'm not, I will rewrite until the end of time.

  2. It's like trying to put together a puzzle sometimes, isn't it? Frustrating at times, but so gratifying when it's all done!

  3. I've been through this nightmare a lot with the first book of my (unpublished) series. I kept editing it because I wasn't happy with it. I cut out a ton of scenes, but then it still didn't feel right and I realized it was because there was too much action and nothing in-between those moments, so then I add in a bunch of scenes. Finally after 5 years of editing this book (and writing the other three books that follow it), I got it right.

    It may take you a while to figure out. Don't rush. Good luck!!

  4. I think I needed this post today. I've been struggling with some of the same stuff. And I agree, sometimes we need to write the crappy scenes just to move on. It's okay to cut them later. Sometimes we just need something to help us move from one scene to the next.

  5. Not everything you write is for another reader. I often write things that I never intend to go into the story, but it's in my head for when I need it during the "real" writing. Cutting is always an option.

  6. The editing process is a challenge and a comfort. My muse takes me to places I didn't envision. We have mental wrestling matches sometimes. And over-thinking or forcing a scene doesn't work. You're right. But we don't know if we're over-thinking it or forcing it until we've played around with it for awhile. I keep telling myself it is all part of the creative process and making our story the best that it can be. Trial and error.