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Monday, 23 May 2016 11:31

Making the Cuts That Improve A Novel

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‘Drama is life with the boring bits left out.’

I love this quote by Alfred Hitchcock. It applies not only to movie making but novel writing as well, especially suspense. And I try to adhere to it as much as possible in writing my own.

What I choose to write in a story is never a blow-by-blow account of what happens. I skip the dull bits and if there’s any information the reader needs from it, I have my characters talk about or reflect on it later.

For example:

In the story I’m currently working on I’ve just written the opening scene where my heroine saves a man whose car brakes fail on a steep mountain road. The scene ends with her pulling him from his submerged vehicle and reviving him with CPR thus saving his life.

The next thing that would actually happen in the story is that the paramedics would arrive and take him to the hospital while the heroine is questioned and then driven home by the police.

But there isn’t really much interesting in that. The injured man is once again unconscious so there can be no exchange between him and the heroine. And the heroine will only tell the cops information the reader already knows.

Bor-ing.

Instead what I’ll do is cut from the moment the heroine revives the stranger to when the police drop her back at her house. There, upon seeing a police car pull up at the door, her father greets her anxiously and a conversation between them deepens both characters and reveals info that furthers the plot.

The only information I need to get across to the reader from the time period I omitted is that the injured man briefly regained consciousness, long enough to look into the heroine’s eyes and say something to her. That’s all I need. And it’s easy enough to have her reflect on this as she’s talking to her father or getting ready to head off to work.

To me the easiest way to know what to cut from a story is by how I feel about writing it. If I’m not looking forward to writing a scene, if it doesn’t excite or move me in some way, I know the chances are pretty good that it won’t do a lot for the reader either.

As a reader, what sorts of things would you prefer to do without in a story? Physical descriptions of the characters? Scene setting? What do you too often find in a story that you'd rather the author had left out?

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