19 June 2012

Fix it or Ditch it? (Tuesday Talk)

What is it best to do when things are just not going as you plan? Your main character is suddenly out of character, or not behaving as you want him or her to behave.
That scene which should be a fast paced gallop, is plodding along like a tired old donkey.
Let's face it - the whole darn plot is a plod.

Do you keep tinkering? Do you add, alter, cut and paste? 
Or do you pluck up the courage to press the delete button?

The truth is - if you are finding that paragraph or chapter boring then so will your readers.
It takes courage to delete something that you have spent hours (maybe days!) writing, but it has to be done. If it is not as good as it should be - why is it in there?
If it is not essential to the plot,  why is it in there?
If it is dull, why is it in there?

When I was writing Harold the King (titled I am the Chosen King in the US) I wrote a wonderful chapter about a scene describing the building of Westminster Abbey. It had the craftsmen and labourers going up and down ladders, the noise, the smells, the heavy stone, the sawdust from the carpenters' work... I had such fun writing it, and had spent ages on researching all the detail. My editor at the time - Lynne Drew who was then at Random House, and who is now head of fiction at Harper Collins, said it was beautifully written, but added nothing to the story which was already quite hefty in length.

I have never forgotten her saying "Do you think you feel up to cutting the entire chapter out?"
I gulped.
The hours of work that I had put into it....
"OK." I said. It went.
And yes it was well written, but the overall book is just as good without it.

For Sea Witch I deleted the first 50 pages of the original first draft. Yes, 50 pages!

My then agent did not like the book, she wanted me to write it for teenage boys - I was determined it was for grown up adults seeking arm-chair adventure. She was right about the first 50 pages though.
I had written that first draft as a historical novel, not a historical adventure. I needed pace and action to open the book, not the detail of Jesamiah's childhood.
(she was completely wrong about it being for teenage boys though... I am being proven right. Grown ups do like nautical adventures with a sexy pirate.)

So take a long, honest look at what you have written - and do not listen to friends and relatives who will always say "it is wonderful".
They are being nice, not honest.
Listen to your inner voice whispering inside your head.

If it isn't broken, don't fix it. If it needs fixing - then maybe the best action is to take a deep breath, delete it and create something better.

If you can do that, then you know you are almost there among the "grown ups" as a real writer!

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