They call me Chainsaw, for short

I recently got an interesting question about the writing process. What’s, this? A real writing post?!!? Nothing about dolls?!?! I know. Bear with me.

When I posted an update to Facebook that I was still cutting my manuscript, someone asked, why so much cutting? She wondered if maybe I didn’t like what I’d written.

Oh, I love what I’ve written. It’s all precious little snowflakes made of gold to me. And I will keep on cutting. I’ve compared writing to lots of things: puzzles, fruit, rivers, doll adventures. I think this time I’ll go with clay…or meat. You picture whichever you like.

The first draft is like acquiring my meat clay. It’s brand new, just unwrapped and it has lots and lots of problems. It doesn’t look like anything, and it’s raw. It’s just the materials I have to work with. My second draft is about creating a basic shape and making sure character arcs and plot points are flowing smoothly. I guess this is molding the clay into a rough shape of what you want it to be, or alternatively, doing something to meat that conveys the same image. (Can you tell that I don’t sculpt or grill?)

My third round of edits, ah, that’s where the detail work begins. One of my writing group partners called me the Chainsaw of Loving Kindness, and that still makes me laugh. Though I don’t recommend using a chainsaw on clay or your dinner. I think the nickname is apt because if anything is unnecessary to the plot or to character development, it’s cut. Doesn’t matter if I think it’s the cutest scene on creation, it’s cut. Repetitious words are cut. A hefty amount of dialogue tags are cut. Lengthy conversations are cut down, and similar conversations are cut altogether. Adverbs are cut down as are many participles and their phrases.

Now my clay really likes look a horsey, and my meat has no more fat, and is probably cooking at this point. Part of the art of cutting is trying to hit your word count. More often, it’s about trimming and tightening, making every word work, or trying to. I’m looking to shave 6K or so off my current manuscript, and so far, it’s going well. On my first two drafts, I leave a lot of extras to remind myself what’s going on as I’m writing, where a reader wouldn’t have any trouble keeping track. Where I am right now, many “wounded hands” are getting cut. Yeah, that sounds like the image to end on.

If you write, do you often have to cut like the wind or add words to make your manuscript better? And if you read, do you often find yourself thinking that whole scenes could be cut? Do you use clay or meat in your work?

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8 thoughts on “They call me Chainsaw, for short

  1. I have you for cutting. LOL. I usually have to add words. I find that I often forget to set the scene or include feelings. Ah, feelings. Characters have them, I’m told.

  2. I’m a very spare writer. I prefer to write fast and tight and then add the details later. That’s not to say I won’t go all homicidal on a whole paragraph now and again.

    To me, the mark of a professional is to be able to cull copy without sentiment. They may be beautiful words, but if they don’t fit, they don’t ship.

  3. I used to really love big scenes that flowed with a bit of purple prose. As I’ve grown in my writing and what I find I enjoy, I lean more towards providing that “just enough” sparseness then go back in to add a nice respite in the action here or a moment of comedic hilarity there to lighten things a tad after a rather dark series of events.

  4. With me, it depends on the project and the narrative voice. For example, the narrator of my mystery stories (the “Watson”) is pretty old-fashioned, so he would never write a sex scene. So, when one would come up in the story, I use a row of asterisks, like in the old days. 🙂

    But it does depend on the project. I planned for my last story to be 42,000 words and it ended up being 30,000. I was quite pleased (in fact, a fist-pump and a “whoo!” or two may have happened). I eliminated scenes, I focused on six key characters, and at one point I had three conversations going one at once in a scene (saves time 🙂 ).

    Now, with my new story (feeling that, since I was such a good boy the last time, I deserve a treat) I’m loosening the reins a bit. It’s still going to be short, I think (currently 27,000 words and I’m near the end), but there are a lot more characters, a lot more plot threads, and a certain amount of meandering. It’s just not a straight-line kind of story.

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