Posts Tagged deleted scenes

Does it serve the book? Killing your darlings is a mark of writing maturity

kill your darlings Roz Morris Nail Your NovelLast weekend I was teaching a workshop at Writecon Zurich and one of the issues we discussed was killing your darlings. I used the example of a very precious scene I deleted from My Memories of a Future Life. The full story, including the scene, is here, but briefly, it was inspired by a family heirloom and I was keen to include it. But at each revision round I sensed it repeated an emotional beat, tripped the reader up and made the story stall. When, finally, I swallowed my vanity and removed it, the story ran more smoothly.

I found myself using that same instinct the other day with Ever Rest, which I’m revising. I’m recutting the rough first draft in a more dynamic order, now I know the characters more deeply. I’d planned a funky new use for a scene and was pleased with the possibilities – especially as there were some good lines about the characters’ histories. So I improvised a fill-in scene to prepare the way – then realised that had already done the job. Those nice moments weren’t even needed.

I have to admit, this was annoying. If I get excited about an idea, I want to use it, not discard it. But it was surplus to requirements and would spoil the flow. Rather like the dress scene. I liked it for itself, but it didn’t serve the book.

I sighed and parked the sequence back in the rushes file. It might be useful later.

DSCF3083smlBut the dress scene is lovely!

Back to the dress scene. I’ve also used it as an illustration in my Guardian masterclass – and quite often, a funny thing happens. One of the students will argue, quite strenuously, that I should have included it. Why? Because it was nice, they reply. And no matter how I argue about the overall good of the book, they lament that I took it out.

No matter that I tell them readers can find it on my website if they’re that curious; or that I acknowledge the narrator probably had that moment around the corners of the story. That there would have been plenty of moments of the characters’ lives I didn’t show. Real life contains a lot of monotony and repetition, but a storyteller needs to select what to include and what to omit. You get more artistry from discipline, coherence and elegance than you do from sprawl.

Be strict

The reason I tell the anecdote is to illustrate the kinds of battles we might have as we edit. We have to recognise when we’re trying to include a scene, character or description simply because we like it, and instead search for a more substantial reason.

Now obviously we are not building machines. We are creating works of art and entertainment. A scene, character or description might earn its place for many reasons aside from advancing the plot – thematic resonance, comic relief, helping the reader to understand a tricky situation. And our style is an individual organism that arises from our interests, gut feeling, personality and reading tastes, so the rules for my novels won’t be the same as the rules for yours.

But mature writers have this level of awareness and discipline that helps them edit wisely. I now find I’m catching myself far more often than I used to, examining my personal feelings about a scene, and it’s saved me from stitching in a passage that I’m sure I would have quarreled with later.

Or, in the words of Stephen King: Kill your darlings, kill your darlings, even when it breaks your egocentric little scribbler’s heart, kill your darlings.’

ebookcovernyn3There’s a lot more about honing your story’s pace in Writing Plots With Drama, Depth & Heart: Nail Your Novel.

Have you struggled over a cherished passage in one of your books? Have you had feedback where you were urged to delete something, but found it difficult? What made you want to keep it? If you’ve been writing for a while, do you notice yourself becoming more aware of your reasons for keeping scenes? Let’s discuss!

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I rewrote my novel through a critique group but I’ve lost my way

too manycooks hugo90A conversation on Twitter about online writing groups made me remember I had this post, written nearly 4 years ago. I tweeted it and got so many messages about it I thought it might be worth an official rerun. So – if you’ve been with this blog since 2011 you might have a sense of deja vu. If not …. I hope this is useful.

…………………

I’ve had this email from Vanessa, which is a fairly common problem.

During the past 12 months, I rewrote my novel 8 times as part of a critique group, and now I’m wondering if I should just go back to my first draft and start over. My book is different now, in some ways better, in some ways worse. I’m not even sure I can work with it in its present, 8th incarnation. I’m feeling a bit discouraged and don’t know how to recapture the original freshness. I think there are some good changes in the revisions, but also a lot of bad direction. How will I sort through it?

Discounting the fact that some of the advice might be misguided, inept or even destructive, even the most accomplished critiquers will offer different approaches when they spot a problem. You get a lot of input and you don’t know which to ignore. You try to knit them into a coherent whole and then realise you’re lost. And the idea is worn to shreds.

A brainstorming draft

If you’re feeling like Vanessa is, you have to see this as is a brainstorming draft. It’s full of other people’s solutions – some good for your book and some a bad fit.

A learning draft

It is also a learning draft – in it you learned how to sketch a character, how to show instead of tell, how to introduce back story without clogging the pipes, how to pace. You could almost view some of it as exercises that have helped you to write better – but some of those exercises will not be pieces that need to be in this book.

Take control

Now you will undoubtedly be more practised and more aware. You need to take control of this brainstorming/apprenticeship draft and make a novel out of it again.

As a BTW: one thing you find as you grow as a writer is that other people’s solutions are rarely right for you. You have to pay close attention to the problem they have identified rather than what they tell you to do. If lots of people are saying something is wrong it probably is. But their solution is probably not right for you, even if they’re an accomplished writer.

Get back to your vision of your book

First of all, have you had a break from the novel? Here’s how you can tell. Do you view most of the manuscript as a problem? If you read it through right now would you be beating yourself up for what’s not going right?

Put it away so that you can read it without wanting to have a row with it.

When you’re ready, don’t read that latest version. Find the material from before the crit group, when it was just you and your idea. I always advise authors to keep their first draft because although there will be much to blush about, there will also be glorious tumbles of inspiration. What can vanish after multiple revisions is the raw inspiration and even if you didn’t express it well when you first wrote it down, the spirit of it is usually there.

Read through this and enjoy your original idea. Look out for the interesting edges that have been smoothed away and make a file of them.

Now to your manuscript

Then read the latest version. Make a copy so you can mess about with it. Paste into a new file the sections that your gut wants to keep and that you feel are an improvement on what went before. Clip away those you feel don’t belong – but don’t junk them because they may be useful later or for another book. Don’t try to rework anything yet – just examine what’s already there.

Any sections you don’t mind about either way should stay in the original file. You now have 4 files:

  • 1 initial gems with rough edges
  • 2 gems from the reworked version
  • 3 don’t-minds
  • 4 rejects.

File 2 is your new essentials for this story. Now work out where the gaps are and how you’re going to join the dots. Yes it’s very much slimmer than the draft file, but it’s what you like about the book, in concentrate. Look at file 1 and consider how to add its contents in. Look at your ‘don’t mind’ file and figure out if you could work up any of the elements to fit with the new vision. From this you’ll build a new book that you do like from a draft you’re ratty about.

If you’re going to play with the story order a lot, you might find it useful to play the cards game from Nail Your Novel. If you’re not going to reorder you don’t have to worry about this.

Feedback is essential, of course, but you can get lost. This especially happens if you’re feeling your way, as first-time novelists are. While you have been writing with group feedback you have been putting the controls as much in their hands as your own. Now you’ve grown up a little, you have to close the doors, get to know the novel again and plan how you’re going to do justice to it.

Have you had experience revising with critique groups? And what would you tell Vanessa? Share in the comments

Thanks for the pic Hugo 90 on flickr

nyn1badgeMore about handling critiques and drastic edits in Nail Your Novel: Why Writers Abandon Books and how you can Draft, Fix and Finish With Confidence

 

 

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A performance dress: why a precious scene had to go – guest post at Creative Flux

This dress is special. It belonged to my great-aunt. It’s silk velvet, probably 1930s. Soft as a foal’s pelt, red as claret. It clings like cobweb but is now too fragile to wear. I was so happy to give it a new outing – with a few alterations – in a scene for My Memories of a Future Life.

Then later, with my ruthless editing head on, I cut the whole scene.

I’m at Creative Flux today, a blog curated by Terre Britton -painter, designer, illustrator, owner of Terrabyte Graphics, VP of marketing at Sirius Press, Inc and co-author of Energetics: The First Order, the first of a four-book sci-fi-thriller series. She asked me to talk about my creative process – and why I cut that precious scene.

Do you have a precious scene you had to say goodbye to? Why was it hard to let go?

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I rewrote my novel through a critique group but I’ve lost my way

Critique groups are a great way to develop a critical sense and to experiment with what works. And to meet other people who are as dedicated to writing as you are. But too many cooks…

I’ve had this email from Vanessa, which is a fairly common problem.

During the past 12 months, I rewrote my novel 8 times as part of a critique group, and now I’m wondering if I should just go back to my first draft and start over. My book is different now, in some ways better, in some ways worse. I’m not even sure I can work with it in its present, 8th incarnation. I’m feeling a bit discouraged and don’t know how to recapture the original freshness. I think there are some good changes in the revisions, but also a lot of bad direction. How will I sort through it?

Discounting the fact that some of the advice might be misguided, inept or even destructive, even the most accomplished critiquers will offer different approaches when they spot a problem. You get a lot of input and you don’t know which to ignore. You try to knit them into a coherent whole and then realise you’re lost. And the idea is worn to shreds.

A brainstorming draft

If you’re feeling like Vanessa is, you have to see this as is a brainstorming draft. It’s full of other people’s solutions – some good for your book and some a bad fit.

A learning draft

It is also a learning draft – in it you learned how to sketch a character, how to show instead of tell, how to introduce back story without clogging the pipes, how to pace. You could almost view some of it as exercises that have helped you to write better – but some of those exercises will not be pieces that need to be in this book.

Take control

Now you will undoubtedly be more practised and more aware. You need to take control of this brainstorming/apprenticeship draft and make a novel out of it again.

As a BTW: one thing you find as you grow as a writer is that other people’s solutions are rarely right for you. You have to pay close attention to the problem they have identified rather than what they tell you to do. If lots of people are saying something is wrong it probably is. But their solution is probably not right for you, even if they’re an accomplished writer.

Get back to your vision of your book

First of all, have you had a break from the novel? Here’s how you can tell. Do you view most of the manuscript as a problem? If you read it through right now would you be beating yourself up for what’s not going right?

Put it away so that you can read it without wanting to have a row with it.

When you’re ready, don’t read that latest version. Find the material from before the crit group, when it was just you and your idea. I always advise authors to keep their first draft because although there will be much to blush about, there will also be glorious tumbles of inspiration. What can vanish after multiple revisions is the raw inspiration and even if you didn’t express it well when you first wrote it down, the spirit of it is usually there.

Read through this and enjoy your original idea. Look out for the interesting edges that have been smoothed away and make a file of them.

Now to your manuscript

Then read the latest version. Make a copy so you can mess about with it. Paste into a new file the sections that your gut wants to keep and that you feel are an improvement on what went before. Clip away those you feel don’t belong – but don’t junk them because they may be useful later or for another book. Don’t try to rework anything yet – just examine what’s already there.

Any sections you don’t mind about either way should stay in the original file. You now have 4 files:

  • 1 initial gems with rough edges
  • 2 gems from the reworked version
  • 3 don’t-minds
  • 4 rejects.

File 2 is your new essentials for this story. Now work out where the gaps are and how you’re going to join the dots. Yes it’s very much slimmer than the draft file, but it’s what you like about the book, in concentrate. Look at file 1 and consider how to add its contents in. Look at your ‘don’t mind’ file and figure out if you could work up any of the elements to fit with the new vision. From this you’ll build a new book that you do like from a draft you’re ratty about.

If you’re going to play with the story order a lot, you might find it useful to play the cards game from Nail Your Novel. If you’re not going to reorder you don’t have to worry about this.

Feedback is essential, of course, but you can get lost. This especially happens if you’re feeling your way, as first-time novelists are. While you have been writing with group feedback you have been putting the controls as much in their hands as your own. Now you’ve grown up a little, you have to close the doors, get to know the novel again and plan how you’re going to do justice to it.

Have you had experience revising with critique groups? And what would you tell Vanessa? Share in the comments

Thanks for the pic Hugo 90 on flickr

nyn1badgeMore about handling critiques and major edits in Nail Your Novel: Why Writers Abandon Books and how you can Draft, Fix and Finish With Confidence

 

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37 Comments

Have faith – there is a book at the end of the tunnel

Two weeks ago I dotted the last pixel on my  novel Lifeform Three and now it’s got an agent who loves it. Phew.

A few months ago no one would have loved this book. Not even me. Although occasionally scenes and characters would flash a winning smile, there was so much that remained wrong with it. And I’d already been working on it for much of the year.

I have had to drill virtually to the Earth’s core to find out what the story in this idea was. Then I had to work out the very best way it should be told. I have pulled it and punched it until it has revealed its themes and I have sweated over how to explore all that without bludgeoning the reader, being saccharine or vastly obscure.

I have refined every metaphor, analysed every action and reaction, listened to every niggling symptom that something is not right. I have put that book on the psychiatrist’s couch and had endless discussions with it about what needs to change, whether characters are pulling their weight, whether we should let go of a scene I’d always cherished. I have been prodded back to the drawing board by every good film I’ve seen or great book I’ve read. Even the bad books seemed to be doing a better job than I was. The beginning has had more corrective surgery than Michael Jackson.

Finding the right voice was an ordeal all of its own. I’ve gritted my teeth at every respected blogger who said don’t use present tense, because for this book present tense always felt the most natural way to tell the story. I’ve gritted at every post that warned about intruding narrators. I’ve needed a narrator who could place a cosy humanity around bleak events and get away with jokes that the main character would never be able to make himself.

For more than a year it seemed as though Lifeform Three was born damaged and has had to be nurtured, massaged, corrected, restrained, disciplined, until it was fit to stand up on its own, walk into an agent’s inbox and say ‘read me’. Of course, there are still a few notes to come about niggles and clarifications, but it substantially does exactly what I wanted when the idea first grabbed me. And more.

And do you know what? This is what it takes to get a novel right. This is normal.

This is why writing is not just about the first draft. It’s why revising is not just correcting your spellings or twiddling with your literary expressions. This is why the hard work is the ruthless and endless rewriting, the questions we ask about what we are really writing about, the demands we make of ourselves to do better. This is why it takes so long.

And now, I start another. I write this post to help me through the storms ahead and for anyone else currently trapped by a difficult book. This is what it takes to do the job.

Where are you with your WIP? First draft, second, umpteenth?

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64 Comments

Nail Your Novel coming to Kindle on Valentine’s day

By popular demand, my book Nail Your Novel is launching on Kindle on Monday 14 Feb. I’m trying to muster as many people to buy it on that day so that it makes a decent thump in the Amazon charts. So, if you were hoping for a Kindle version would you buy it on the 14th?

Love to write? On Valentine’s day, Give your book a writing buddy to hold its hand. Ahhh.

Thank you, .bobby, for the picture.

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Gremlins hit Nail Your Novel Amazon listing – but you can buy from Lulu or from me direct

You're never too young to start; my god-daughter, Eliza Wallis, reads Nail Your Novel. No, she's not the gremlin that caused all the trouble (at least not this time)

I just received an email from a reader who couldn’t find the listings to buy Nail Your Novel – and discovered it has disappeared from Amazon.

After a good bit of hair tearing and digging in the Lulu help forums, I discovered Lulu has made ‘service improvements’ and many customers are up in arms because their Amazon listings have been unavailable for a week. Not only that, Lulu had somehow (and unforgivably) turned my listing to private access so that nobody could buy it.

So – if you’ve been trying to buy Nail Your Novel, or browse it on Amazon, I’m sorry you’ve had a frustrating time. The Lulu listing is now working – here it is – and I am shouting at them to get the Amazon one back. Not to mention my 13 five-star reviews, which you guys have written and I’m terribly grateful for – and would be gutted to lose.

You can still use the Bookbuzzr widget to read the first 15 pages (see the column on the right) and the link from there will now take you to Lulu. And if all else fails, I have some copies and will happily sell to you via Paypal (and you’ll get a cute little Nail Your Novel Moo card to use as a bookmark – although I’m afraid my cute little god-daughter is not included).

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Write and finish your novel in 2011 – guest podcast on Unruly Guides

Is your new year resolution to write your novel? Perhaps you’ve vowed to dust off your NaNoWriMo experiment and finish it properly, or to do justice to the idea you started a while ago and had to put aside. If so, I have something for you! Roxanne McHenry of Unruly Guides to epublishing invited me on their podcast show recently, and asked me for my advice on drafting, revising and seeking feedback.

In this podcast you can get advice on:

  • planning your novel and filling in the plot holes
  • revising your manuscript effectively and thoroughly
  • keeping your motivation
  • solving problems in your story
  • finding a critique group that’s right for you
  • when – and whether to hire a profesional editor – and how to find one who is a good fit for you.

 

Here’s a sample of our discussion: ‘If you’re going to go along to a critique group, take along a short story, where you don’t mind what they say, and just see how they deal with your writing before you unleash the novel that really matters.’

You can listen to or download the whole podcast here – hope to see you there!

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New Year special – writing sins that scupper a story Part 5: Sherlock Holmes

Over the last few days I’ve railed about weak story links, lazy plotting, wrong point of view, bad characterisation and unsatisfying endings in DVDs I’ve watched over the holidays. Yesterday I had a chewy moan about hasty rewrites that weren’t properly integrated in Did You Hear About The Morgans. Today’s post is not a complaint, but a congratulation. It features a film where I suspect a major change had to be made, but it was done deftly and without upsetting the story. So beware spoilers, and I give you…

 Sherlock Holmes and the mystery of Irene Adler’s trousers

It all started when Irene Adler had to be rescued from the slaughterhouse and was found to be wearing voluminous men’s trousers – which you have to admit is unusual attire for a lady of the Victorian era. Was it a disguise? We were never told.

Writing sin (very venial): A rather too crowded final scene

That wouldn’t have bothered me much, as she’s a racy lady who likes to cut a dash – but for a rather crowded final scene. Right at the end of the movie, Holmes is explaining to Watson and his fiancée how the villain Blackwood faked his death, when some policemen rush in with news that the explosive device defused in the story’s climax has been stolen. This info-dump is quite substantial and completely upsets the rhythm of the dialogue (so that Watson’s fiancée appears to be kneeling on the floor for a very long time). My hypothesis?

The arrival of the police been spliced in to prime the audience for a sequel with Professor Moriarty.

Of course, a hunch like that isn’t enough, and Dave soon provided the next clue. Many moons ago, he saw a trailer for Sherlock Holmes that featured a scene where Irene knees Holmes in a sensitive place. It wasn’t in the final film. And he read on imdb that the release of Sherlock Holmes was delayed because more edits were needed.

Could someone have made a decision at a late stage to lay the groundwork for a sequel with Moriarty?

We looked at the movie again. There were a number of scenes where Irene meets a shadowy figure in a darkened carriage. They could all have been spliced in later, with deft reshoots and editing. And as commercial movies have to keep to a strict length, other story material must have gone. Was the missing fight between Irene and Holmes evidence that something had been removed?

And was Irene’s male attire originally a disguise, from a story thread that hit the cutting room floor?

When revising, we often have to slip in new elements or change an emphasis. This might be because we’ve changed our direction or because of outside feedback. If it’s late on in editing, the amount of unpicking required is enough to make you reach for the violin or the opium pipe.

Maybe my theory is totally wrong. But if you’re trying to knit a new thread into your story, get the DVD of Guy Ritchie’s admirable Sherlock Holmes, imagine it doesn’t have the Moriarty thread – and see how they made it look as though it was always there.

Have you had to splice new threads or ideas into a book? Was it painful and how did you do it?

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New Year special – writing sins that scupper a story Part 3: Salt

Weak story links, lazy plotting, wrong point of view, unsatisfying endings… Although Chez Morris we’ve taken time off from writing, we’ve seen some DVDs that have roused me to write posts of protest. So, to keep your critical faculties ticking over until life resumes as normal, I thought I’d share them with you in this five-part mini-series. (And yes, beware spoilers…)

 

Today: Salt

Salt starts well enough. Angelina Jolie’s character, Evelyn Salt, is preparing for her wedding anniversary when she discovers she is not a CIA officer but a Russian sleeper spy – and is given an assignment to assassinate the Russian president. Her husband is kidnapped, and she goes on the run. Pretty soon she finds her husband, just in time to see him killed. For the rest of the film, she carries on with her mission, tries to avoid capture and flushes out the real bad guys.

Writing sin 1: breaking the connection with the audience In the commentary the director, Philip Noyce, reveals they cut a scene from the middle, in which Salt is interrogated by the CIA after apparently assassinating the Russian president. She tells them she had to look as though she was going on with her Russian orders because the Russians have her husband and this is the only way to find him. Noyce said he regretted taking the scene out because it ‘broke the umbilical cord with the audience’.

With this scene in the film, she is struggling to rescue her husband – and so we are rooting for her. If it is cut out we have no idea what her motivations are, and are left only with the question of whether she assassinated the Russian president or not – a character we have not been made to care about, and an action whose consequences to us are remote and theoretical. For the rest of the film we are wondering whether she is a patriotic American or a Soviet baddie, but again this is impersonal. What the story made us care about at the beginning is whether she loses her husband. When they discarded that from the film, they cut out its heart.

Writing sin 2: bodged ending

The director’s commentary reveals there are three possible endings to Salt. In the first ending, she kills her Russian handler (who earlier on killed her husband) – thus ending on a note of emotional closure. The test audience didn’t like it – possibly because without the earlier umbilical cord scene it looked glib.

So what did they do instead? In the released version, Salt is unofficially allowed to escape on condition she kills the other sleeper spies – which looks like it’s leaving the treadmill on for dozens of sequels. The third ending is a variation on this – a news bulletin hints that the new US president might be another sleeper spy. This is intellectually clever but not emotionally –because we haven’t been made to care about the consequences of that. Plus, we can hear that cynical sequel treadmill grinding.

Endings do have to be clever and surprising, of course. But they also have to tackle what the audience most cares about. The revenge killing of the handler would have done this, but only if the thread had been kept.

Tomorrow: Did You Hear About The Morgans?

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