Cutting Nita, Act One

Nita ended up being over 135,000 words which is Way Too Many, so this week between bouts of vertigo, dealing with taxes, and trying not to throw up from both, I decided to trim that book. The first thing I did was divide it back into acts and then looked at Act One, scene by scene. I mention this just to reassure everybody, especially my McDaniel students, that just because I teach something, doesn’t mean I’ve learned it. Because of course scene by scene tells me nothing. What I need are scene sequences. Duh. Only took me an hour or two to remember that.

When I looked at Act One in scene sequences, they fell into this pattern:

1-a: First meet (Trouble Starts)
1-b: Aftermath and minions (Trouble Starts)
1-c: Breakfast, stabbing. (Trouble Gets Worse)
1-d: Authority figures, work (Trouble Gets Worse)
1-e: Hell (Crisis)
1-f: Demon Head (Climax)

I have decided that this is definitely a romance first, mystery second, so each of those sequences should move the romance plot.

1-a First Meet does
1-b Aftermath does because they’re thinking about each other.
1-c Breakfast does because that’s where they first begin to connect.
1-d Authority figures and work? Uh, no.
1-e Hell: This is the crisis sequence and it propels them back to each other so even though they’re not together, it fits.
1-f Demon Head: Yes, beginning of partnership.

So the problem area is 1-d and that’s the place to cut. Then I did word counts for those sequences:

1-a: 10628
1-b: 5798
1-c: 5270
1-d: 10886
1-e: 3442
1-f: 3678

1-a is too long, and since I need all those scenes, the best thing to do is just go through and cut anything that isn’t necessary, even if it’s great. The big problem is that holy moly, 1-d is huge and it’s the least in service to the romance. I could make that two sequences pretty easily, one authority figures (Nick vs Mayor, Nita vs. Captain) and the other their work day, but that won’t help with he focus. If I’m looking for juice in the love story, the key is getting Nita and Nick together as fast as possible (1-a with some cuts), getting them back together as fast as possible (1-c at breakfast) and getting them into a partnership as fast as possible (1-f the end sequence on demon head). That’s where the juice is. I need 1-b to develop the partner relationships (Nita and Button, Nick with Jeo and Rab) and to give Nick and Nita time to think about each to set up 1-c at breakfast, so I’m good with that. And 1-e is Nick goes to hell and Nita sees a screaming head, so that stays to set up the big finish (plus it’s just over 3000 words, so it’s tight). But 1-d . . .

Basically 1-d is a mess. Button does a sit-in’ and thinking’ scene, then Nick talks to the mayor, then Button talks to the captain, then Nita talks to the Captain, then Button talks to Nita, then Nick talks to Vinnie, then Nick goes to Mr. Praxis, then Nita goes to Vinnie, then Nick hits the historical society, then Nita goes to Mr. Crome, then Nick goes to Mr. Crome and gets sucked back into hell. Fascinating it’s not.

So cut Button’s sittin’ and thinking’ scene. Nick with the Mayor stays, although I can cut it back some. Maybe combine the Nita and Button with the captain scenes. The Nita and Button scene where they meet Lily that has to be in there. Summarize Nick’s day in a paragraph that takes him to the historical society, one scene. Summarize Nita’s day that takes her to Mr. Crome, one scene. Then that transition where Nick goes to Crome and gets sucked into Hell.

Now how does that move the romance plot? The captain asks about Nick, Nita and Button talk about Nick. Nick’s day has nothing to do with Nita. Nita’s investigating Nick, but since the reader has Nick’s PoV, there’s nothing new there. I like the scene with Mr. Crome and they talk about Nick, but I can cut it back. And then Nick’s bit with Crome is about a page, so that’s not a problem.

The problem is that nothing there moves the romance. Yep, 1-d is going to be a bear. And the good news is that when I’m done with Act One, Act Two and Act Three are both over 40,000 words and should be about 25,000 so . . . that screaming sound you’re hearing from the Northeast (or whatever depending on where you are) is me. Act Four is actually short, which is fine by me.

And I’ve still got three Argh Authors to get up here. I suck as a blogger, apologies to all.

28 thoughts on “Cutting Nita, Act One

  1. Am I allowed to be a bit teary eyed at the thought all those wonderful words disappearing and that I’ll never get to read them?

    Completely understand your drive to remove them, I’m just a bit sad about missing out on reading them that’s all.

    I’m hoping you’re at least feeling a little better – if not lots better.

    1. You know, books are almost always better after cuts. I’m not losing anything wonderful, I’m just cutting out stuff that isn’t necessary so you can see the wonderful better (g).
      I was thinking I should post the pre-cut and the after-cut of the first scene. You’ve all read the first scene so many times you can practically recite it, but it might be interesting. Well, it’s interesting to me.

      1. Yes please, it is a while since you posted the first scene, and I would like to compare how (what I thought was very good already) you make it “better”. I hope you keep all the bits I liked.

    2. I feel sad about cuts but then remember all the stuff I skip in books when I re-read them because it’s irrelevant to the main characters. I love Mr Impossible and Miss Wonderful by Loretta Chase however I haven’t read the villain-only bits since the first time around. (I likewise hate flashbacks for taking me out of the real story)

  2. I’m jazzed that it’s definitely a romance, and I can see your cuts are going to make the story more involving for me.

    There’s just a faint echo on the other side of the Atlantic. I’m sending back a buzz of appreciation.

  3. Like Jane, I’m excited that it will definitely be a romance. No one does romance like you do!

    Also, you are an excellent blogger.

  4. You are an excellent blogger, in large part due to exactly this kind of post.

    I’ve avoided reading excerpts so I could come to the book fresh, but this post makes me want to read before/after cuts.

    Thanks as always for the education and inspiration!

  5. Reading these posts make me a much better reader. I really like reading the before and after edits, so I know HOW it’s better. Thanks for teaching us all.

  6. On Facebook, I started following a site named “A pun a day will make everyone hate you!” They are so right – I’m thinking of unfollowing. Or not. One of the posts went:

    “Why did you want to be an editor?”
    “Well, to make a long story short…”


    You’re doing your taxes? I did mine in January. Got the returns back weeks ago. Spent them keeping my car on the road, already. (New Tires and alignment.) State tax refund still pending, but it isn’t much.

    By my reconning, Dirt was created on February 22, 1951. Everyone in my family assures me I’m two days older than dirt. (Happy B-day to me!) My daughter cooked me an apple spice cake and celebrated my day two days ago. She did it because every time we shop, I check the bakery or deli for apple spice cake. I really only want a slice every few weeks; now I have half a cake in the refrigerator. I can’t stop grinning.

    Jenny, be well. If you can’t be well, be better. Please.

  7. I’m still benefitting from the fact I used to be entitled to tax credit (a kind of income supplement). Claiming it involved having my tax return done by the end of July, and I haven’t let myself know yet that the actual deadline is the end of January, because I’m usually very last-minute.

  8. Jenny it is exciting that you are working on Nita. And in the last draft, I thought 1 (d) was good — but not quite as great as the other sections. I can’t wait to read the final book.

    Like you I am working on taxes. Gary, I am jealous that yours are done, and refund received! I am still waiting for two statements before I can even think about filing. I’m just filling in what I can.

  9. Hearing that you are working on Nita is wonderful. Cutting is hard to do but so freeing. When I decided to publish my last book I went in and cut 25,000 words and I’m not brave about cutting because I’m afraid I’ll chop out something important to the story. Or make it clunky. It was so much better.

  10. I’m doing taxes now too, which is enraging, but not all that difficult. Cutting one’s manuscript, however, is definitely in Mega Difficult ++ territory.

    I’m curious: when does book length matter? What if it doesn’t need cutting (which doesn’t mean Nita doesn’t – that’s your decision)? Dickens (still) doesn’t need cutting, nor does (my opinion, yikes) Elliot’s “Middlemarch,” massive tomes, both.

    I’m currently reading Circe, by Madeline Miller ( and in my book (/g) it could bear cutting by about 20%. It’s a terrific story well told, but the whole of it could be much better. (Of course I say that about a lot of books written now, so maybe it’s me?)

    I’m also still plowing through that Mary Balogh (I mentioned it last week, “Someone to Trust”), and mercy, the last 15% is still awaiting my attention. It could have been a Can’t Put Down book, but alas.

    I don’t remember ever thinking a Crusie book needed cutting; you must be doing something right. So we’re sending lots of good Nita Editing Energy your way!

    1. Dickens, of course, was writing in installments – a very different rhythm for both writer and reader. And the scale of ‘Middlemarch’ and its like makes especial sense when you consider the context: no other home entertainment, apart from people performing for relatives and friends, and a female readership (especially) with time on their hands.

    2. It’s really a pacing thing, plus the idea that you bury the good stuff under piles of okay stuff, and that’s bad. You want only the good parts.

      Also big books cost more to print, but that’s not so much a factor for me as the slog through the just okay that hides the great.

  11. You know how when a movie comes out on DVD they add the extra “deleted scenes”? Wouldn’t it be great if they did that with books… then we could choose to read the cut parts (or not.) !!! 🙂

    One of my favorite historical books, “Jubilee Trail”, by Gwen Bristow, has two versions (which I did NOT know until recently.) !

    The original release, aka unabridged version, came out in a light blue hardcover book. (And I highly recommend it!) The other release (has the same date, copyright, etc., and does NOT tell you it is abridged! Nowhere in the book does it state that there are sections which have been removed!) is a slightly smaller, thinner hardcover with a dust jacket with a picture of the heroine on it. (Do not bother with this one.) >:(

    I got the “edited” (clipped!) one on eBay (“I haven’t read this in a LONG time…”) and was baffled to find that whole chunks of my favorite parts(!!!) of the book were MISSING from it! (I could almost recite bits of it verbatim, and trust me, the stuff was gone from this edition!)

    Now I’m afraid that every one of her books (especially in the paperback versions) have been “reader’s digest-ized” without my being aware of that (have I ever even read the “real” version of some of her titles? Maybe I like Jubilee Trail the best because it’s the only original version of her books I’ve been able to find/read? Some of the others seem less interesting or less realistic and vivid, but could it be because they’re all abridged or re-edited? And if so, how do I find the expanded or original versions?)

    I’ve not been able to find any information about that either (the puzzle of the two versions of that title, etc.,) and it’s very frustrating. Not sure why they do that to books, or how to determine if it has been done to a title or not (always thought they were supposed to tell you if a book had been abridged, but I guess not!)

    I was able to track down a real copy and compare, and they had indeed made some very obvious and definite cuts to the less interesting version. Lost some of the power and the full impact of the story with the omissions, in my opinion.

    Anyway, back to my original idea… it would be so great if readers could get the extra bits that got taken out of the story (give more detail, more back story, etc.) Just like they do with the movie scenes. 🙂

    Especially when some of the edits remove info that sort of needs to be there, or at the least would help explain some of the action more thoroughly, but the authors/editors miss that, because they know the story so well they forget, and then the reader ends up puzzling over a reference which makes no sense (but once did, until they cut the meaningful yellow flower scene, so then later you don’t know just why the dandelion made her laugh, etc.)

    Well, at least we get to see some of the “behind the scenes” background in a Crusie book, even if it comes out of the published product later! (Good luck with that process…) !!!

    1. I’m thinking about it, but I have a feeling that once I’ve got this stuff cut, I’ll look at it and think, “Why did I think I needed that?”

  12. Jenny, I agree with all the comments that support your further editing. It’s fascinating being on the outside of your writing process. While you were in the midst of this first complete version, you explained why you needed all the scenes and interactions. At that point, I felt I needed a lot more background info in order to put all those characters and issues into the perspective of the entire story. Now that you are focusing on the romance and cutting out some of the extra scenes, I suspect I will need fewer details of the story’s world (like the variations between Nita’s/Button’s boss’s office compared with the mayor’s office).

    I know I’m not making sense, but I’m behind your ways of tightening the story.

    1. Yep, I took Button’s sittin’ and thinkin’ scene and Button’s scene with the captain and Nita’s scene with the captain and combined them. It’s a mess right now, but whoa Nellie did that pick up the pace.

  13. I read a multitude of blogs – granted, about gardening – and, yep, you wear the Excellent Blogger crown. At times I think we don’t deserve you. Thank you for creating this community and keeping us going. Be well and protect yourself.

    In other news, you have earned the Thea Seal of Approval for your edits.


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