Welcome to the AbsoluteWrite Water Cooler! Please read The Newbie Guide To Absolute Write

Page 1 of 2 12 LastLast
Results 1 to 25 of 27

Thread: Where do you draw the line when "trimming the fat"?

  1. #1
    My name is PJ. P-Jay's Avatar
    Join Date
    Dec 2012
    Posts
    144

    Where do you draw the line when "trimming the fat"?

    Hello fellow writers,

    I know this is going to be very subjective. I'm in my first round of edits, and I realized that I could condense 2 chapters into 1 chapter, and still get the point across. Then my wandering mind started thinking about merging in another chapter. And another chapter. And another.

    It's late. And I'm probably overthinking it, but I'm interested in where you guys draw the line when "trimming the fat."

    I'm sure it's a balance thing... I'm just wondering if there's a general rule of thumb that I don't know about.

    Thanks in advance!

  2. #2
    Miss Conceived Liralen's Avatar
    Join Date
    Dec 2012
    Location
    Taarna
    Posts
    5,828
    More isn't always better, but less isn't always better either.

    It's a story, there needs to be . . . storytelling.

    Kind of like a roast. If it's too lean it's tough and has no flavor.
    The creative writing process is a lot like emotional binge and purge cycles.

    Can you find the Pitbull?

    WIP ~ The Black Dog Dialogues: At the raw, dark fringes of exhaustion, there is The Black Dog

  3. #3
    The Crazy Man in the Sun. Feel me. WillSauger's Avatar
    Join Date
    Apr 2012
    Location
    Las Vegas, Nevada
    Posts
    5,048
    I start out writing as lean as possible, so it's hard to trim the fat without cutting something vital out. Most the time I'm gaining over cutting.

    Think of it this way: If we wanted to trim the story down, we would be writing a one paragraph section instead of a 100K novel.
    So, it's the journey to get to that point we need to make. To have the reader experience what the characters are going through.
    And try your best to keep the amount of time and words the reader has to go through to get to the point to a minimum, but without sacrificing the journey they go on.

    I say, a scene that does nothing can be gold if its entertaining. And a scene that does a lot, but isn't entertaining is worthless.
    But you want to strike for both entertaining, and productive.

    It really is a balancing act.
    Don't Fear Failure.

    "The illiterate of the 21st century will not be those who cannot read and write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn, and relearn" -- Alvin Toffler.

    "The heights of great men reached and kept were not attained by sudden flight, but they while their companions slept, were toiling upward in the night" -- Henry Wadsworth Longfellow.

  4. #4
    Likes metaphors mixed, not stirred Chris P's Avatar
    Join Date
    Nov 2009
    Location
    Kingsford, MI. Home of the charcoal
    Posts
    13,023
    Well, there's the obvious of cutting anything that doesn't pertain to the story. At some point I need to make a decision on what I want to say, and how best to say it. Anything that doesn't add to the central conflict should go. But, after initially writing very richly, I now write very leanly, and as you said balance is important.
    Short Fiction in the AW Library

    Click here to see a video of my two years in Uganda with the Peace Corps

    Resingled Needs another round of betas. Interested?
    Nyasaland Undergoing major repairs.
    WIP: Cloak of Iron. WWI Sci-fi. It's got tanks. And holograms. 43,000 words.

  5. #5
    Ustom Ser Itle Dgullen's Avatar
    Join Date
    Sep 2007
    Location
    Near London, UK
    Posts
    115
    It's very subjective. My rule of thumb is if you can cut you should cut. Sometimes it's obvious you can dump a section, other times it takes a bit more thought. (When I say dump I mean cut it into another file or shunt it down the bottom into the word moraine because you might change your mind.)

    Cutting can be very satisfying. I think if there's any rule it is this: You should cut if cutting reveals more of the story. Much the same as sculpting a statue consists of removing the material you don't need to reveal the figure.

    It's also worth putting your work aside for a few days, or a week or two, before you do your edits.

  6. #6
    Geekzilla BigWords's Avatar
    Join Date
    May 2009
    Location
    inside the machine
    Posts
    10,670
    Don't cut so much that the actions of characters feel arbitrary. There needs to be some heart in there as well as the mechanics of the story.

    Also, with every edit remember to save in a new file - you might want to add some of the cut material back in at a later point, and you really should keep a copy of everything you have written, if only to remind yourself of the thought process getting from A to B.
    The blog, which may not be updated regularly enough. -- I'm linking to other AW blogs here. -- There's some nonsense here when I can be bothered.
    Don't hold your breath...

    Quote Originally Posted by AbielleRose View Post
    Dude, I am not that flexible.
    Quote Originally Posted by aliwood View Post
    The SFF Review Educational Supplement is now open. I'll be listing books, podcasts, online courses and anything else that aims to help the SFF writer improve their skills, provided they're free. (the books, podcasts, online courses and anything else, not the writers)




    The British Comics Database is growing. Or mutating. I'm not quite sure which, yet.

  7. #7
    resident curmudgeon
    Join Date
    Feb 2005
    Posts
    26,319
    It isn't something I worry about. I just write the way I think works best, and I tell a story I'd want to read. I trust my instincts, and don't think about trimming, or lengthening, beyond whether or not I like the way it reads.

  8. #8
    Who wants a cup of tea? HFgal's Avatar
    Join Date
    Dec 2012
    Location
    19th century
    Posts
    162
    I would like to hear people's views on cutting when you have a 63K MS like P-Jay vs. cutting when you have a much higher word count.

    People have a certain expectation of how long their entertainment should last. A movie isn't less than an hour (unless it's a short, but I mean a mainstream full movie) and it's usually less than 3 hours. Books have expected lengths too, and that varies by genre. So it seems like this should be part of the mix of cutting. Because P-Jay's MS is 63K, I agree with WillSauger's comments about being entertaining. In my case, because when I was done with the first draft my MS was about 20K over the maximum word count for my genre, I had to cut out entire scenes that were (IMHO) extremely entertaining but not critical to move the story ahead - even though they DID move the story ahead, they were not 100% necessary, so I cut. And it hurt. (But of course they are still saved in an older version of the file, where I can take them out and pet them every once in a while to feel good. )

    Then there was the review of every frickin' adjective and the cutting of many of them. Now THAT was tedious. But worth it.

  9. #9
    My name is PJ. P-Jay's Avatar
    Join Date
    Dec 2012
    Posts
    144
    Thanks for all the replies.

    Part of me wishes I never asked this question, because now I'm looking too far into everything.
    But awareness is a good thing, right?

    Every scene in my MS has some sort of purpose. Some scenes have more than others, but that's just for pacing.

    This really is driving me a little insane. I'm going to try and not touch or think about my MS all weekend.

  10. #10
    Aquarius theDolphin's Avatar
    Join Date
    Oct 2012
    Location
    Toronto
    Posts
    156
    Great question. It's intriguing to see all the different approaches. As you can see from the variety, ultimately you'll find your own path. For what they're worth, here are my two cents.

    I had often heard that rewriting is where the real writing begins, and I used to--well-- rather poo-poo that idea. "I edit while I write," I told myself. And I always believed that. I believed it right up until I was faced with the first serious rewrite of my first novel. As you mentioned the rewriting process can be extremely overwhelming and confusing and at the outset it really was for me. I'd get trapped in my head, going over and over the same ground, doing a whole lot of circular thinking about what was going to work. Anyway, while I am certain everyone has their own techniques for Navigating the Rewrite, this is the methodology that broke the cycle for me in the end:

    I sat down one morning and wrote two paragraphs on the two main themes of my novel. I then tacked them up on the bulletin board beside my desk. Every morning I read them before I would look at the novel. Keeping those themes firmly in my head as I began to work, every story element, character, plot point that didn't feed the movement and progression of those themes toward their climax-- was cut.

    I was shocked at how much chaff I could cut from the wheat. I ended up cutting more than I would have thought possible. Words led to paragraphs and ultimately even a character and a few chapters I adored were discarded. In cases where I was too broken up about losing something, I'd store away the material I'd cut, in case it would someday prove useful in another tale. When I was finished I had cut nearly 100 pages from the original manuscript. After two more rewrites, I had cut a total of 125 pages from what proved to be the final draft.

    It was hard work, and it was slow going, but in the end it gave me an entirely different perspective of the piece. I was able to view the novel as a whole so much more easily than I had when I was writing originally. My agent queries, including my descriptive paragraph, and my one sentence pitch, came so much more easily after that work. In the end, rewriting was both liberating and exhilarating.

    Now I'm working on my second novel. And I can't wait to get to the rewrites!
    Good luck to you!
    www.jenniferrockwell.com

    sparrow in the treetop - tweet, tweet!

    Jennifer Rockwell on Goodreads

    A bird doesn't sing because it has an answer, it sings because it has a song.
    Maya Angelou

  11. #11
    practical experience, FTW victoriakmartin's Avatar
    Join Date
    May 2012
    Location
    Ottawa
    Posts
    328
    If you are really in doubt, you could always write the condensed version and then compare it to the original, or have someone else read it for fresh eyes.

    I generally do think that it is better to ere on the side of "less is more" though, so long as the pacing doesn't suffer because of it.
    A Case of Mist & Mirrors progress: 10,317/30,000 (approx).

  12. #12
    My name is PJ. P-Jay's Avatar
    Join Date
    Dec 2012
    Posts
    144
    Scratch what I said in my previous post. There's no way I'll be able to not write or think about my manuscript for three days.

    I think I'm going to power through this round of edits without thinking too much about trimming. Once that's done, I'll have a firmer slab of clay to work with.

    Hopefully doing it this way will save my sanity until the next round of edits.

    Thank you all for your responses! Reps will be added.

    Please do continue the discussion, as the responses have been very informative and intriguing.

    It's interesting to see how this can be played off.
    The questions resound in my head every time I read a new novel now.

    1. Did the author just flip a coin to decide whether or not to merge/split that chapter?

    2. If the scene was too fat/lean, was that the legitimate intention of the author?

    I'm quite certain I'm looking way too far into this. It's been a long year.

  13. #13
    If I can give some advice, I'd say don't be obsessed with word count. When you revise, aim steadfastly toward clarity and interesting things. Are your sentences and paragraphs clear? (Clarity starts small.) Do your characters have appropriate motivation for what they do? And most of all, is this story interesting? Those are the things that matter, I think.

  14. #14
    My name is PJ. P-Jay's Avatar
    Join Date
    Dec 2012
    Posts
    144
    Nothing I've written is nonsense. Everything adds to the story.

    Some scenes are more for entertainment, but are still relevant to the story.
    Some scenes are slower, but are used for character/momentum building.

    I'm not writing a thriller, so not every scene will be bang-bang-bang-bang-bang, point A to B to C to D in a matter of seconds.

    I guess what I'm trying to figure out, is the art of gradual momentum building.

    For example,
    Scene 1 is about MC and his family at home.
    Scene 2 is about MC and his best friend at school, maybe some back story when he comes into play.
    Now do I merge those two scenes? Maybe his friend comes over to his place for dinner, where I introduce them all at once?
    Or keep them seperate?
    If I merged them, I'd lose some funny material that happens at school, but it'd be more "lean."

    That's what I'm banging my head over. This is probably where an author's own style and voice comes into play as well.

    I guess in the big picture, there's really no right or wrong answer. Or is there?

    I need a cup of coffee.
    Last edited by P-Jay; 01-11-2013 at 11:58 PM.

  15. #15
    Hissing Roach Chasing the Horizon's Avatar
    Join Date
    Nov 2006
    Location
    About to crawl on your keyboard
    Posts
    4,120
    Quote Originally Posted by P-Jay View Post
    For example,
    Scene 1 is about MC and his family at home.
    Scene 2 is about MC and his best friend at school, maybe some back story when he comes into play.
    Now do I merge those two scenes? Maybe his friend comes over to his place for dinner, where I introduce them all at once?
    Or keep them seperate?
    If I merged them, I'd lose some funny material that happens at school, but it'd be more "lean."
    But what are the scenes actually *about*? What is the conflict and what do they reveal that's imperative to the plot and theme? You have to be able to analyze that before you can edit effectively.

    I can't guess what the purpose of your scenes are, so I'll use my new book as an example of what I'm talking about. The opening scene shows the characters going around to several magical markets and festivals in their city. While this reveals world-building well enough and serves to orient the reader to where we are, going to magical festivals is not what the scene is about. It's about the conversation the characters are having about the upcoming ritual they're going to be forced to participate in, and how, because of what his friend says, the MC begins to dread the ritual. It's the first time he begins to doubt that what his people do to their children is right. It's this doubt that will eventually lead him to commit the drastic act that kicks off the whole epic fantasy conflict. So the opening scene is *about* the MC discovering that one of the foundations of his society is terribly flawed.

    So what are the two scenes you're looking at actually about? If they're about the same thing (and books often have many scenes with the same basic point) then merging them could work. But if the points are completely different it's going to muddle things if you combine them.
    ~~~~~~~ Hisssssssssssssssssss


  16. #16
    practical experience, FTW treehugger's Avatar
    Join Date
    Feb 2008
    Location
    Zenith City of the Unsalted Seas
    Posts
    171
    This has definitely been a big issue for my in my current WIP. The first draft is... well, it has a lot of potential, but I worked on it too sporadically and wound up with a manuscript that is bloated with unnecessary secondary characters and subplots that go nowhere, etc., etc. Of course at the time I was writing and even though round one of editing I thought everything in it was necessary, too, but upon further reflection I found that a lot of the more troublesome scenes were "not quite right" because they did nothing for the story I was trying to tell and were unnecessary digressions that would be deleted wholesale or incorporated into other scenes. Which really, really hurt because I had to get rid of some scenes and lines that were very charming or entertaining or well-written, but... they just didn't work for this story.

    I wouldn't recommend doing this for your entire book, because it is so labor intensive, but what I did for some of the stickier parts was go though and make kind of a post-first-draft outline where I wrote a few words about what happened the each scene (the bare, tangible action) and then what that scene meant to the story as a whole. So I might have something like this:

    Lily asks to spend summer at Rick and Mattie's, Paul quits job.
    -class/poverty
    -Paul's recklessness (foreshadowing Lily's)
    -family tension

    Doing this help solidify the story in my mind and helped me see the best way to tell that story. I trimmed a lot of fat and was able to really tighten the remaining scenes. This is a literary novel, by the way, also not a bang-bang-bang thriller. A literary novel can be made lean and still be lyrical and beautiful; you just have to make sure that every word counts.

    Good luck. I am right now wrestling with a 50 page subplot that may or may not need to be in the final draft. :|
    Writer. Artist. Gardener. Crazy Cat Lady.
    http://sonyamirus.com/

  17. #17
    practical experience, FTW
    Join Date
    Jan 2013
    Location
    Texas, USA
    Posts
    301
    When it starts reading like a stage script, has lost too much and no longer makes sense, and/or the pacing has gone all wonky and there is no longer any sense of time. That’s my simple way of knowing when I've gone too far.

    I usually end up cutting a lot of extra writing that has no impact on the story or doesn’t contribute to helping someone understand a character.

  18. #18
    Huh. kkbe's Avatar
    Join Date
    Nov 2011
    Location
    Left of center
    Posts
    4,979
    Quote Originally Posted by P-Jay View Post
    Nothing I've written is nonsense. Everything adds to the story. . . I guess what I'm trying to figure out, is the art of gradual momentum building . . . do I merge those two scenes? . . .Or keep them seperate? . . . That's what I'm banging my head over. This is probably where an author's own style and voice comes into play as well.

    I guess in the big picture, there's really no right or wrong answer. Or is there?

    I need a cup of coffee.
    P-Jay, maybe you could post a couple of scenes, present your concerns, see if there's some sort of general concensus.

    Maybe you need a good night's sleep.

    Maybe you need to step away for a while. Maybe you're so close to it that you're starting to see the parts at the exclusion of the whole.

    Maybe you're being reactive out of doubt or anxiety, and panic is setting in, and you're not trusting your writing because of that.

    Maybe you should set your writing aside for a little while and see what happens, or just keep writing, and see what happens.

    From TWINK:
    Iíll be dead by the time anybody reads this thing--making a big assumption there, I know--so humor me, all right?
    /my blog/

    Rep'd by Brent Taylor @ TriadaUS Lit. Agency

  19. #19
    υπείκωphobe Wilde_at_heart's Avatar
    Join Date
    Sep 2012
    Location
    Southern Ontario
    Posts
    3,250
    Quote Originally Posted by P-Jay View Post
    Hello fellow writers,

    I know this is going to be very subjective. I'm in my first round of edits, and I realized that I could condense 2 chapters into 1 chapter, and still get the point across. Then my wandering mind started thinking about merging in another chapter. And another chapter. And another.

    It's late. And I'm probably overthinking it, but I'm interested in where you guys draw the line when "trimming the fat."

    I'm sure it's a balance thing... I'm just wondering if there's a general rule of thumb that I don't know about.

    Thanks in advance!
    If it ads depth to your story or characters, keep it. Nothing wrong with a little 'self-indulgence' imo.

    Have you set it aside for a bit so it isn't super-fresh in your memory first? Do a quick read-through and if it doesn't really add anything to the story and you find that even you are skipping over it, then you can probably cut it. If there is a part that you still are really attached to and it's not completely extraneous, you might as well keep it.

    I start by cutting out any repetition, crutch words, and words like 'very', 'suddenly' and 'almost first, and then work on strengthening nouns and verbs. There doesn't tend to be a lot of left-over 'fat' by then...

  20. #20
    My name is PJ. P-Jay's Avatar
    Join Date
    Dec 2012
    Posts
    144
    I don't mind cutting out unneccessary or redundant material, I'm just unsure of where, when, and how much.

    One of my first scenes is the MC's birthday party.
    What's shown to the reader in this scene:
    - MC has a loving family
    - MC has a brother that's 7 years younger
    - MC has a best friend
    - MC is close with his cousin
    - MC is a smart, observing person at a young age

    Everything that's shown in this scene can easily be portrayed in the following scenes. However, if I were to scrap this scene and just move the main points over to the next scene, I would lose a few jokes, but would not affect the story otherwise.

    Would you scrap all these "filler" scenes?

    And to the poster above mentioning my word count... I try not to let the word count deter my story too much. The 63k in my signature was from when I first powered through my first draft. There are a few plot holes I had to fill, and now I'm at about 70k.

    Edit: Reading back through the birthday party scene a few times, I think I will be cutting it out.

  21. #21
    Huh. kkbe's Avatar
    Join Date
    Nov 2011
    Location
    Left of center
    Posts
    4,979
    P-Jay: Would you scrap all these "filler" scenes?
    Now you're talking about a different animal, P-Jay. If the scene effectively moves the story forward in a meaningful way, then it has value to the story. If it is "filler material," it does not. You need to know the purpose that each chapter, scene, paragraph, sentence, and word serves. If it doesn't serve the story, it isn't pulling it's weight. Or it's weighing it down. Or obscuring it. Or leading it in a direction you don't want the story to go.

    If that's the case, get rid of it.
    From TWINK:
    Iíll be dead by the time anybody reads this thing--making a big assumption there, I know--so humor me, all right?
    /my blog/

    Rep'd by Brent Taylor @ TriadaUS Lit. Agency

  22. #22
    Recovering adjective addict
    Join Date
    Feb 2011
    Posts
    3,135
    I'm wondering if it might help you to take a book that you love, or two, and study it. Break it apart. Figure out how each scene works with the overall plot and the overall character arc.

    Everything in writing is subjective. In the end, you have to do for your story what feels right to you.

  23. #23
    practical experience, FTW treehugger's Avatar
    Join Date
    Feb 2008
    Location
    Zenith City of the Unsalted Seas
    Posts
    171
    If you already convey these things in another scene (or feel you can convey them in a better way), then cut it. If it feels like a "filler scene," absolutely cut it.

    But save the deleted scenes in another file somewhere if your not sure, just in case you want to add them back in later.

    Quote Originally Posted by P-Jay View Post
    I don't mind cutting out unneccessary or redundant material, I'm just unsure of where, when, and how much.

    One of my first scenes is the MC's birthday party.
    What's shown to the reader in this scene:
    - MC has a loving family
    - MC has a brother that's 7 years younger
    - MC has a best friend
    - MC is close with his cousin
    - MC is a smart, observing person at a young age

    Everything that's shown in this scene can easily be portrayed in the following scenes. However, if I were to scrap this scene and just move the main points over to the next scene, I would lose a few jokes, but would not affect the story otherwise.

    Would you scrap all these "filler" scenes?

    And to the poster above mentioning my word count... I try not to let the word count deter my story too much. The 63k in my signature was from when I first powered through my first draft. There are a few plot holes I had to fill, and now I'm at about 70k.

    Edit: Reading back through the birthday party scene a few times, I think I will be cutting it out.
    Writer. Artist. Gardener. Crazy Cat Lady.
    http://sonyamirus.com/

  24. #24
    practical experience, FTW MakanJuu's Avatar
    Join Date
    Jan 2013
    Location
    Warren, OH
    Posts
    837
    Meh, it's all subjective for me. If something just isn't right, it'll be either shortened or rewritten in a manner which is easier to swallow. Either that, or deleted entirely.
    Current WIPs:
    Spirits- Scifi/ Urban Fantasy/ Character Drama (23000 wds)
    What Lies Within the Mahounin- Classic Fantasy/ horror/ Character Drama (n/a)

    Backburners:
    Paranorm- Horror/ Character Drama
    Buried Below- Treasure Hunter Homage
    Spirits Sequels & Prequel(s)

  25. #25
    Wandering worlds Gynn's Avatar
    Join Date
    Feb 2008
    Location
    Noth
    Posts
    665
    Quote Originally Posted by P-Jay View Post
    Hello fellow writers,

    I know this is going to be very subjective. I'm in my first round of edits, and I realized that I could condense 2 chapters into 1 chapter, and still get the point across. Then my wandering mind started thinking about merging in another chapter. And another chapter. And another.

    It's late. And I'm probably overthinking it, but I'm interested in where you guys draw the line when "trimming the fat."

    I'm sure it's a balance thing... I'm just wondering if there's a general rule of thumb that I don't know about.

    Thanks in advance!
    As long as each chapter has a point (furthers the plot in some way), I say try to keep it in some fashion. I'm the king of chapters that don't have a point, i.e. character development that doesn't really keep the plot rolling. I find that I do lots of merging in the course of my writing.

    I guess you should just look at each chapter and ask yourself what would happen if you completely deleted it. Which actions and lines are irreplaceable? Can they be merged into another chapter?

Page 1 of 2 12 LastLast

Bookmarks

Posting Permissions

  • You may not post new threads
  • You may not post replies
  • You may not post attachments
  • You may not edit your posts
  •  
Custom Search