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Beyond the First Draft–The Cutting Room Floor

Monday, August 20, 2007

After the release of the third Pirates of the Caribbean movie, I was involved in quite a few discussions about things that left us confused or loose ends we felt didn’t get wrapped up in a satisfactory manner. Part of it goes back to the discussion we had here several months ago about what an ending is supposed to accomplish, whether the book/movie is a stand-alone or series. Well, come to find out, the editors of the movie cut out a scene where it is explained that when Davy Jones came back after his first ten years ferrying the dead and his true love wasn’t there waiting for him, he was cursed forever. Which means that when Will comes back after his first ten years, since Elizabeth was standing there waiting for him, it let him off the hook—he would be able to return to the land of the living. Kind of an important thing to leave out, huh?

Have you ever read a book where you felt like something was missing? Like a vital piece of information had been left out? Well, one of two things happened–either the author never wrote it (an oversight) or it got cut out in the editing process.

When it comes to my own work, I am horrible at figuring out what should be cut. I LOVE explanations. I love adjectives. I love to describe things down to the last detail. And since I’ve done so much research and I love the era so much, I have a lot of details that may not be important to the story—like all of the dishes served at the Witheringtons’ formal dinner. Since I want my book to appeal to the largest possible audience, it’s these types of details that probably need to go. Which is why I have critique partners.

The weird thing is that I found it easier to cut, cut, cut in my contemporary. Maybe it’s because I had hardly any research that went into the setting, the clothing, the food, the context of where/when the story is set. One of the things that drew me to writing something set in 1814 is because I love all of the trappings of the Georgian/Regency/Napoleonic era. I want the story to come across on the page as much of a visual feast as the BBC costume dramas do on screen. But again, that narrows my audience. Most general romance readers don’t want to focus on all the descriptions of the visual stuff—they want characters and interactions.

When I’m reading/editing someone else’s work, it’s so easy for me to see where cuts should be made. Since I’m not emotionally involved in the process of what went into composing the story, I can be objective about what’s important and what’s not.

I enjoy watching the behind-the-scenes documentaries included in the extended versions of the Lord of the Rings trilogy, along with listening to Peter Jackson’s, Phillipa Boyens’, and Fran Walsh’s commentary track under the expanded film itself—listening especially to them talking about why they decided to cut certain scenes for the theatrical releases and how they decided which scenes to include in the extended versions (because there are still tons of scenes they shot that stayed on the cutting room floor).

When we write, we want our story to include everything we imagine happening—whether it’s a conversation, a vivid description, an event, backstory, flashbacks, or the words of the song on the radio the hero is singing along with. As we move beyond being “freshmen” writers and start becoming more seasoned, more professional, we have to start learning how to let go of those scenes we may absolutely love but really aren’t that important to the story. The more polished our manuscripts are when they go out to a potential editor, the more likely we are to catch their attention—because they won’t have as much work to do on their end in the editorial process. Which is why working with a critique group is so extremely important—because our crit partners can help bring that objectivity to our work and let us know what should stay and what should be left on the cutting room floor.

If we were always objective about our own work, it wouldn’t be very good. It’s good to be passionate about what we’ve written, to feel a pang of loss when we cut something. But I’ve mentioned before: edits aren’t like losing an arm or leg. Edits are like getting a manicure, pedicure, and haircut. Sure, you’re going to lose bits and pieces, but the final product is going to look so much better!

  1. Monday, August 20, 2007 8:34 pm

    I love the manicure, pedicure, haircut analogy! It’s so true. The finished ms always looks so much better after it’s been shined by crit buds 🙂


  2. Tuesday, August 21, 2007 4:03 pm

    Ah, more on this would be appreciated! I know even critting for others and seeing how cutting an adjective here or there makes it better, has really opened my eyes to being more ruthless in my own cutting!



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