The fat that must be trimmed

Personally, I prefer a red pen and the 'delete' key

Personally, I prefer a red pen and the ‘delete’ key

Steadily working my way through the coveted territory of Act 3, although the wrapping-up of some subplots still needs some work. Nothing I can’t handle.

Throughout this whole process has been an ongoing tinkering with what was there before. Some items have been cut (necessarily so) while some have been expanded (also necessarily so).

Among what had been cut were a trio of characters who only existed in a handful of scenes in the third act. The only reason they were originally around was to provide conflict with the main character, but didn’t really serve much else of a purpose.

So they’ve been cut, with another character’s part slightly modified and expanded to take their place.

This goes way beyond killing one’s darlings. It’s about making the story as lean and streamlined as possible, and if that means cutting characters, scenes or even sequences, so be it.  You do what’s necessary.

But this is also where it can get tricky. How do you know what should stay and what should go?

Unfortunately, there’s no easy answer. But you can learn by constantly writing, rewriting and getting feedback. It’s a skill that takes time to develop, so don’t rush it.

(You could read scripts, but those are often the finished product. You won’t know what it looked like before.)

A good rule of thumb: ask yourself as you write and edit – “How much of a difference will it make to the story if I take this out?”

Chances are once you make those cuts, you won’t even miss what’s been taken out, which means it probably shouldn’t have been there in the first place.

-A total self-indulgent announcement: I ran the San Jose Rock & Roll Half Marathon on Sunday, thinking there was no way I could beat my previous best time ever of 1:53:07, set back in August.

But somehow, despite warm weather and the occasional feeling of “Jeez, when is this going to end?”, I shaved almost 2 minutes off and finished at 1:51:11. Totally didn’t see that coming.

With no races scheduled in the near future, I don’t want to get ahead of myself and even consider the possibility of hitting 1:50.

Although I’ll admit the thought does occasionally cross my mind.

5 Responses to The fat that must be trimmed

  1. well said. For me, cutting is like this weird freedom especially after the first draft because I am getting rid of all the crap and B.S. and getting to the good stuff. That said, though, one of my last scripts I went overboard and now I have put it away – just so I can look at the original draft I edited again, and see where I went wrong:). I think reading and writing more definitely helps with staying objective with the cuts though…

  2. Maximum Z says:

    Some valuable advice from a member of my old writing group: Each scene should advance the story, plot and characters. If it doesn’t, there’s no need for it to be there.

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