Pruning and trimming

There is a saying that when you need your trees trimmed, you should give the saw to your worst enemy. The idea is that you can never prune a tree too much.

I’m not sure how valid that is for tree care, and I suspect it can be overdone with story care as well. Nonetheless, I thought it offered a nice analogy to open this post.

I am well into the throes of reading through (again) and viciously pruning a lot of dead wood from the draft of my novel. As I’ve noted in earlier posts, I tend to throw everything into my first drafts that comes to mind when the fingers are flying across the keyboard. Much of it I will subsequently use, some of it I won’t. The challenge is to have enough perspective to know which is which. I think I’m far enough along in the revising process to recognize these distinctions now.

I am cutting out whole paragraphs lately. In some cases they dealt with plot or character ideas that I never developed. One involved a minor subplot intended to give more mystery to a character who actually doesn’t even make a physical appearance in the story. It might have supplemented the general weirdness of it all, but the development wasn’t very credible, and the character never materialized as I thought he might. Plus, there already is plenty to keep the tone suitable.

I’ve also found that I’ve repeated myself. Some of that is emphasis, of course, but most of it was just redundancy. I had to go back to my notes several times to see if I had already discussed an item and when I found that I had, I had to decide which to keep, and so on. But there was also a lot of explanation of my poor protagonist’s state of mind. He evolves through the story (as any good character should), and I wanted to give this to the reader. The trouble was that I kept on giving it. In the same way each time. So I’ve pulled much of that out of the story as well. I think I get my point across well enough without all of the hammering on it.

I have another tendency in my writing, however, that really must be addressed in the revising stage: I throw in a lot of weasely qualifiers. Things are “a bit” different or “somewhat” changed or changed “to some degree” and a bunch of junk like that. I use “perhaps” a lot. I use “maybe” a lot. I use “a lot” a lot. Sure, sometimes the state of things is not exact, and sometimes these qualifiers make that clear, but most of the time they just add flab to the story telling.

I began this novel as a short story that I abandoned nearly ten years ago. I’ve decided that given another ten years, I can have it about perfect. (Or perfect, without the “about” modifier.)

Explore posts in the same categories: Humble efforts, Sleep of Reason

2 Comments on “Pruning and trimming”

  1. Pete Says:

    “Needless to say…”

  2. I feel your pain. I’m going through it too. I am making a hitlist of words or phrases I will search and destroy once this draft is finished. Most of yours are on there, plus ‘suddenly’ and ‘in that moment’. Also, characters are always ‘trying’ to do things, when they really should just do. Really, that’s another…

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