Vaughn Hardacker here: I have just started the rewrite phase of my most recent novel, which I have tentatively titled THE EXCHANGE. I have always found rewrite to be the hardest task in the writing process. In particular, what to keep, what to change, and, most difficult, what to take out.
We’ve all had occasions where we have written a scene that we truly love and then we remember the adage, “Sometimes you have to kill your darlings.” I recall the first time I read a piece to a writing group. I was really pleased with this scene and when one of the group members said: “That is a great piece of crime writing,” I began to feel as if I had just surpassed a major hurdle. When she went on to say: “Take it out…” I felt my bubble burst when without waiting, she said: “It reveals too much, too soon.” My first reaction was to dismiss her advice. However, when the other members of the group agreed with her,I was forced to accept their opinions. After overcoming my resistance I took that scene out of the book.
Over the past few years I have recalled that night many times and have arrived at a conclusion “not all good writing belongs in a particular book.“ I’ve since come up with a couple of rules that I use to address the issue:
- Make sure that each scene in the book adds suspense and/or poses a question that keeps the reader involved in the story.
- Does the scene add new information crucial to the plot.
- Ask yourself: “Does this scene move the story forward?”
If the answer to any of these questions is no, it should be taken out. When I write a novel I have a insatiable desire for word count, which can lead to having scenes in the story that not only don’t move the story forward, but bog the story down. When I read a book and I get to a scene that doesn’t meet the criteria above, I’m tempted to set the book aside. For several years I was an avid Tom Clancy fan, however, Clancy could bore down into technical description that completely turned me off. One of his books was about a terrorist plot to detonate a nuclear dirty bomb at the Super Bowl. To me the one quarter of the book that went into excruciating detail on the manufacture of the device didn’t add any new information that moved the plot forward. I felt that the plot was about terrorists attacking one of America’s largest sporting events, not how to make a bomb. Eventually I came to the conclusion that Clancy’s plots were to a great extent technology not character driven and I haven’t read any of his work in over ten years.
‘Nuff said. Time to get back to THE EXCHANGE in which a three year old child is abducted for the purpose of selling her on the illegal adoption market.
Thanks, Vaughn! We cannot be reminded too often about that critical (and sometimes painful) truth. If a passage doesn’t move the story forward and add tension, it needs to go, no matter how well-crafted it may be.
Deciding what should go and what should stay has always been my biggest challenge.
Yes, along with deciding what you need to tell and what you can let readers fill in for themselves.
While the writing advice is right-on, I have a problem using children as victims – I don’t care who the writer is.