This month, I unlocked a deleted scene from one of my novels, a chapter titled “Phantom and the Werewolf.” In case you missed it, you can read it here.
Revising is in many ways more difficult than writing the first draft. The writing part is fun. It’s free-flowing (usually), open, creative. You can write whatever enters your mind and worry about editing it later.
But, if you’re a serious writer, eventually that pruning does have to happen, and it isn’t nearly as much fun. You have to consider everything from proper grammar and sentence structure to dialogue, character development, and coherent plot lines, and like it or not, you must be willing to “kill your darlings” in the editing process.
Word count has proven to be my arch-nemesis, and battling those high numbers requires me to sit down, focus, look at the big picture, and decide what extraneous words need to be cut. In some cases, like “Phantom and the Werewolf,” that means major surgery—in this example, an entire chapter had to go. But when your finger is hovering over that DELETE button, my advice is to hit Ctrl-X instead. Here’s why:
- Tucking a passage away in a different document lessens the blow of making that deletion. It feels less like a cut and more like a shuffle. I’ve found that I’m more likely to make necessary omissions from the novel if I know that piece isn’t vanishing into the abyss of cyberspace. Maybe it’s just psychological reassurance, but I know it isn’t gone forever and I can always change my mind. This makes it easier to snap on the latex gloves and slice away entire sections from the manuscript.
- There was a reason you wrote what you did, and a reason you hesitated when weighing its relevance and deciding whether or not it should remain in the story. Maybe it was a poetic piece of prose that sounded exquisite but just didn’t advance the plot, or a snippy comeback from a character. In those cases, hold on to what you wrote. It didn’t work in that particular scene, but that breathtaking sentence or comedic quip might fit somewhere else. Sometimes, I hold onto pretty prose pieces simply because they’re pretty, but when I force myself to cut them out and then revisit them months later, they somehow aren’t as lovely as I remembered, and I know I made the right decision removing them.
- The deleted passage may be reborn someday. In the case of “Phantom and the Werewolf,” that particular chapter delved into character backstories, and elements of that chapter (spoiler!) are likely to appear in a different form in a later novel. I consider that deleted chapter to be an exercise in character development. Even if it never finds its way back into any of the stories, it allowed me to work out my characters’ first interactions with each other. Like I discussed in The Iceberg Theory, the author should know all the details, even if the reader doesn’t need to be bogged down with all that information in the neat, trimmed, edited final manuscript.
- Ah, nostalgia! Discovering deleted scenes from a draft finished years ago will take you on a new adventure all over again. It’s neat to see how characters have evolved, even the fundamental rules of your fantasy world. For example, my novels originally featured two different characters named Matt and Trent. Throughout the edits, these characters ended up taking on the same roles, and they merged into one character. Seeing the old version with the teenagers as separate entities is a fun experience.
- No regrets. In the pressure to shave down that word count, sometimes writers are overzealous and make mistakes. Maybe you forced yourself to cut out a scene, and then when you go back and read through the manuscript, something just isn’t flowing right. There’s a piece missing. It’s a lot easier to copy and paste a passage back into the manuscript than it is to scratch your head and try to remember what you deleted.
So, seriously. Don’t keep tapping that DELETE button when you are operating on your manuscript. It’s a little more work—a few extra buttons to tap, a couple extra clicks. But it’s worth the effort. You’ll have less blood and tears if you cut, paste, and save your work. Even if it never returns to your story, you’ll have a fun sample of early writing to look back on.