It’s sharp. It cuts. And a good writer will learn the value of using it with educated precision. By wielding the scalpel, you rid your manuscript of weak words, phrases, scenes, and unnecessary tangents. And as the word count you worked so hard to achieve falls to the floor in a bloody heap you rejoice knowing your manuscript is stronger for the loss.
Both writers new to the business and writers new to the world of publishing must learn the lesson of the scalpel and learn it well. As a newbie, I balked at the idea of cutting anything from my manuscript. Instead of bravely slicing unnecessary words and paragraphs, I would create a separate file for the precious orphans, thinking I might use them later, or that they might be fodder for another book.
Only it never happened.
I quickly discovered that anything worth deleting from a manuscript needed to be deleted *permanently*. No tears. No pining after the hours spent creating the words. If they were marked to be cut then they were inferior. Period. Sounds tough, huh?
I asked some of my writing peers to share their perspective on the cutting process.
Author Frances Devine’s response goes to show that applying the scalpel can be beneficial in more ways than one. “I cut several paragraphs a couple of days ago because I decided I needed to change the end of a scene. It gave me a new outlook on the next chapter.”
Kimberli Buffaloe isn’t published, but she is learning and maturing as a writer. This statement only proves that: “I've learned to push aside my ego and cut for the good of the story. I don't care if I like the line, scene, or chapter, or if I think the sentence is the most clever thing I've ever written. I've slashed 10k during this revision and know it's probable I'll cut at least 1000 more.”
Pam Meyers has learned the value of the scalpel during a revision she did on a manuscript before submitting a proposal. “Once I got into it (cutting words) I loved seeing how the story strengthened as I got rid of the "extra" words. So many times I found I had "Goes Without Saying" or "Resist the Urge to Explain" clauses at the ends of sentences.”
The secret to creating a better story is applying the scalpel. First, you have to learn to see your manuscript not as a work of art, but as a means of communication. Within a manuscript is a theme, a basic idea that you want to convey to the reader.
Secondly, and perhaps more importantly, as Kim said, you have to kill ego. As writers we often become so caught up in ourselves that instead of conducting the orchestra of characters, we want to spotlight each one of our “pretties.” The problem is members of an orchestra who vie for time in the spotlight are taking away from the work they have been brought together to produce. Characters are the same way. The writer is the conductor and the characters must work together to create a beautiful story with a common theme.
Applying the scalpel returns the focus to the theme of the story and puts the writer back in control.
Mike Ehret, editor of ACFW’s e-zine, Afictionado, sums it up it best: “I have never seen cutting words fail to make a piece better.”
Have you ever seen the necessity of cutting words from your manuscript to make it stronger? Have you ever read a story where the author would have benefited from applying the scalpel a little more?