I Can’t Quit This

Executioner from Arthur Rackam’s 1007 illustration for Alice, and my spiritual editor.

August 5, 2019, 1:19
So I got all ready to cut the home invasion scene and chickened out.  There’s stuff in there that I don’t know how to do elsewhere–the first horrified mention of Button, the entrance of Joyce the Cat, Nita taking the fall for Button and beginning their relationship, Frank as an important character–plus without this I have pages of Talk.  I like Talk.  I’ll spend my entire story just doing Talk if nobody stops me, but Talk Kills Story, so I need action, bodies in motion, Aristotle insists on it, so . . . 

Damn.  I know Faulkner said to kill your darlings, but have you read Faulkner?  Darlings all over the place.  

So today, I find something else to cut in that damn first act, so I can do the second act tomorrow.  Think of this as a live blog of the Reduction of Act One.  Not that that’s not what the whole blog has been about for weeks.  Argh.  But first I have to eat lunch and take the dogs for their Carl Moment. (Carl is the neighbor who lives two doors down who has a darling Yorkie named Jackson and who gives them cookies and pats and tells them they’re Good Dogs.  It’s the high point of their day.). But then, we’re cutting Act One. BRB.

6:42: Stuff happened.  Phone calls.  Dogs to walk.  Thinking to do.  So far, no cuts at all.  

The thing is, I do believe word counts matter.  The first act has to be the longest, but there’s so much set-up in a first act that there tend to be boring parts, “stuff the reader has to know” that she doesn’t want to know because she wants to get back to the juice of the story.  I think the home invasion thing is important, but it keeps Nita and Nick apart longer and that’s bad for the story.  I need to set the scene of the town, but just Nick looking at the town is not action and not interesting.  He learns crucial stuff at the Historical Society but “this is the history of the town” is not riveting.  I need the “good parts version” of this act, not the parts people skip.

I’m cogitating.  And eating stir fry.  And running out of Diet Coke, so that’s a crisis right there.

12:46 AM 
The glorious thing about. being self-employed is that I can sleep as late as. Iwat (except om Thursdays), so I’m now in my favorite work time: no phone calls, no deliveries, no chance of wandering off with the dogs.  It’s dark, everybody else is asleep, and the bears are wandering around outside looking for trash.  Also I’ve zeroed in on the place to cut.

Sequence One was the intro stuff.  5000 words (rounded off)
Sequence Two is the sequence where they meet I’m the bar.  6000 words. 
Sequence Three is the aftermath with minions including the home invasion: 5400 words.
Sequence Four is the breakfast scene and stabbing: 5300 words.
Sequence Five is the complications stuff where they’re apart: 8300 words.
Sequence Six is the crisis scene: Nick goes to Hell and Nita finds the head in the box: 4700 words
Sequence Seven is the big climax on Demon Head: 3500 words.

Since I want the sequences to get shorter, there’s a big clue to where to cut: That Sequence Five which is all over the place and doesn’t have Nick and Nita together.  I knock 3000 words out of there, the rest of that act falls right into line, or close enough I’ll call it in line.  

Plus it’s all that “the reader should know this” stuff:

• The Mayor threatens Nick.
• The Captain interrogates Button.
• Nick asks Vinnie about Nita and her family.
• The Captain interrogates Nita.
• Nita and Button confer.
• Nick walks through Deville, sees the Municipal Building
• Nita and Button talk to Jason and Lily.
• Nita interrogates Vinnie.
• Nick talks to Marvella at the Historical Society

Yeah, I got bored just writing that list.
I  like the Mayor threatening Nick, but the Captain and Button can go.  Same with Nick interrogating Vinnie, I can cut that way  back; I think the only. thing I need there is that Mr. Crome is a necromancer and Nick tells Vinnie to tell Nita he’ll take her to lunch.  The Captain and Nita probably has to be in there, but I can cut that back.  Nita and Button definitely,  but cut that back and combine it with the Lily/Jason stuff; I need Lily introduced here, but not that much.  Nita and Vinnie can be cut way back.    So I think can Nick and Marvella.  So:

• The Mayor threatens Nick.
• Nick tells Vinnie to ask Nita to lunch (cut back).
• The Captain interrogates Nita (cut back).
• Nita and Button confer, Jason and Lily interrupt.
• Nick walks through Deville (cut back), sees the Municipal Building
• Nita interrogates Vinnie (cut back).
• Nick talks to Marvella at the Historical Society (cut back)

I’m not losing anything I love there, it’s just talk about stuff the reader needs to know but doesn’t want to know, so it can go.  I can do that.  I don’t know if I can cut 3000 words which is 12 to 15 pages, but I can give it the old college try.  I’m gonna need another Diet Coke, though.  Fuel for thought.  Maybe a pretzel.   The basics.


22 thoughts on “I Can’t Quit This

  1. You’ll cut what you must, I suppose. This WIP has taken over your writing… thing.

    So, scalpel? Axe? Chainsaw? I ass-u-me you’ll keep a copy of the before, so you can stitch it back somehow, should it need it, or in case the material might fit another story. How many files do you have of Neeta by now?

    Tonight is supposed to be the rescheduled Dinner & Shopping with the Dotter night, where I will hear a suitably edited version of the Granddaughter’s Civilized Contract. I wonder what she will cut out, and why.

    Be well.

  2. Right there with you babe. Im cutting and reorganizing what’s left. Hanging onto darlings does not a good story make. But keeping the necessary plot points and putting them in the right order does. Chop chop!!

  3. While my natural instinct is to cut (I am an editor, after all), I’m still concerned that some of your cutting is just to meet an arbitrary word count, and not purely because this story needs it. Hope I’m wrong – but do stick to making cuts that delight you, because they make everything gel, won’t you?

    1. I get the cutting but I don’t mind a few extra words if they are from you. You might want to rethink using Faulkner as an example. JK Rowling got longer with every book and we ate them up. Third graders started reading 750 page novels.
      Dickens. That was another popular long novel writer.
      I love your dialog. I love your words.

      1. Thank you both. I’m pretty happy with cutting back that 8000 word sequence. I think I got in there and just thought, “Well, I have to cover some info ground here” instead of “I’m telling a story here.” I mean, it’s a part that I skim. Imagine the reader . . .

  4. Maybe think of it like a movie, so if you can live with something being a deleted scene that’s fine. However if you need it for the story to move forward or if it is just awesome writing keep it. Leave the magic in.

    True fans would always rather watch the 3 hour long director’s cut, then the butchered version some studio exec decided was best viewing length anyway

  5. I am also in a cutting-and-reorganizing phase, though what I am faced with cutting is nowhere near as uncuttable as a home invasion and the introduction of a Hellcat. And I am cutting mostly so I can add in some more important stuff that I kind of glossed over in the First Draft Rush. Halfway through and have added a lot more words than I have cut, but nothing is dragging anymore. On to chapter 8.

  6. I know you know best, but whenever I hear you are cutting all I can think about is the great stuff I’ll never get to read. It’s selfish of me, I know.

    1. Ditto. It’s reminiscent of how I felt when I heard about Terry Pratchett’s daughter rolling over his assorted hard drives with a steamroller. So many bits and pieces and drabbles that will never be released into the wild world of storytelling. So my heart breaks a little on this topic.

  7. I take it you despise Ivy Compton-Burnett. But you are much funnier and more insightful than she was.

    (As I was reminded when listening to this new podcast on romance novels that my son found, I don’t know how, called Hot and Bothered, where they quoted you on writing Harlequins. I can recommend the podcast. )

    The trouble is you will get no sympathy from us because we all want you to put it all in. I think this book needs a lot of outtakes.

  8. Having recently struggled through a book where the author pampered her darlings, I hereby hand you an axe.

  9. I’ll trade you. I have to add 20,000 words to my WIP to get it within the guidelines for my next two submission options (my first choice rejected it last week). The good news is, adding a B plot has the possibility of solving other problems. The bad news is I’M TIRED OF WRITING ABOUT CHRISTMAS IN THE SUMMER. THIS WAS A HORRIBLE IDEA.

    Anyway, good luck with the cuts, from one night owl to another. You can do it! Huzzah!

  10. Last week I tried my hand at baking Andie’s banana bread. It was good but not quite right. Today is try 2. Here’s hoping it’s better.

    After many years of thinking myself as not-a-baker, today I realized that I am one now. Especially since I’ve found these 2-ingredient and 3-ingredient recipes that make things so much easier!

    I’m ready to keep trying. So glad you are, too.

  11. I am coming into this as a reader, one who has not read most of the drafts so I have no darlings that I can’t bear for you to part with. My question is: where does the story start? If it is a mystery, is it with the body? If it is a romance, is it with meeting the hero?

    When I read “Simply Irresistible” by Rachel Gibson, I started to read it, could not engage with the characters (she is running away from her wedding, hitches a ride with a guest who is leaving early and stays with him for several days. She thinks they are falling in love, he thinks they are having a one night stand. He buys her a plane ticket). I skipped most of this which was about 25 percent of the book. I started at the dinner she is catering 6 years later. She drops her wallet. He returns it to her house and her 5 year old daughter answers the door. Now I have only skimmed that first 25%. I don’t actually know for sure all of the stuff I said happened in that first part. I picked most of it up from things said later. And I loved the book (well, except for the proposing in front of a crowd of people later. I hate those scenes). And I don’t think anything is lost in the story by my picking up the early action by inference. Ms. Gibson thought it was essential to the story. As a reader, I was not enjoying it so I skipped it. I probably missed some amusing scenes but had I kept with it, I would have missed the rest of the book.

    1. There are two schools of thought on where to start a romance. The popular and most practical one is with the first meet since that gets your protagonist and antagonist on the page. The less popular one and the one I prefer is introduce the protagonist in the first scene and get the reader invested in her, then introduce the love interest/antagonist in the second scene to get the reader invested in him or her and to set up expectation: what’s going to happen when these two meet? (I always thing of Bill Murray in Ghostbusters at this point: “We have to get these two together.”). It’s riskier but it has a bigger payoff: the reader is invested in seeing them together when they finally meet, feeling that she/he knows both of the characters. It makes for a long opening–see Faking It–but it adds layers to that first meet that I can’t get otherwise. I’ve never looked at my books to see what percentage start that way, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it was all of them.

      1. Min meets Cal in the first scene. Nell meets Gabe in the first scene. Just saying, you seem to be able to make both approaches work.

        1. Actually, Min doesn’t meet Cal in the first scene. Liza points him out and they discuss it. Then Cal’s up on the mezzanine trying to avoid whosis and his ex and the bet happens. Then Min overhears and goes back to the bar and waits for him to show up.

          Gabe and Nell, yep.

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