As writers, how often do we consider the chance to unwrite something? To take something away from our work, to hit that delete key, to go on and “kill things”?
In the first draft of writing, the necessary goal is to get words on paper. We spew words and scenes and people like there’s no tomorrow. It is hopeful that we don’t stop nor question anything we are doing because again, it is the first draft. The first draft sees it all – the good in us, the bad in us, and those WTF? moments where we can’t figure what the hell we were trying to say.
I’ve been there, and I’m sure you’ve been too.
But what happens after the first draft, when you’re reading and you come to crossroad about axing some words? In the past, it seemed the word count was so important in books – mainly because of the mainstream publishing process demanding a book be a certain length to justify it’s insane $25 hardcover cost. But now, in this time of change and opportunity, let’s be honest… who cares about the word count? Just tell the story like it’s supposed to be told.
Unwriting something can be hard. We look at the pages and see the sentences. We drum up memories of when we wrote that sentence and how important it was to us. But taking things out of the book can actually help it. Find those pesky word dumping parts and pull them out. Find better ways to share information within the text of the book. To me, there’s nothing worse then reading a block of dialogue followed by a two page explanation of why this dialogue is taking place.
And sometimes, face it, characters don’t belong. Sections don’t belong. There are ideas in the beginning of a book that soon weigh it down and slow the pace. It’s like playing Mario Go Cart on the ‘ol N64 system and hitting the banana peel… you’re slipping and sliding away now.
I once took a 35,000 manuscript and trashed it. I was in mid sentence and looked up from my laptop at my wife and said, “This book is shit. I’m deleting it.” I didn’t delete it, but I started it over.
More recently, within The Devil’s Weekend, I had a third story working in that I took out. I wasn’t sure how long TDW would be and I was nervous about it. I tried adding the mob on top of The Devil and a serial killer. In the beginning it worked great. The storyline mixed, it built suspense… but then something happened. The actual story, the main story of the book grew so strong I didn’t need the mob. To me, writing those mob chapters were slowing the pace of the book down. In my mind I had a vision of a wicked cool shootout with the mob, the cops, The Devil, the serial killer (Oliver Ignis), but it just didn’t seem… good. It felt processed, fake, and I knew that if I was a reader and got through the book and saw that, I’d be mad.
And plus at one point I asked myself, ‘What’s the point of the mob?’
So I took it out. It knocked a big chunk of 10,000 words from my book, but when I did it and I read it again, WOW, did the pace pick up. It now became this fierce story of Oliver killing, The Devil pushing him to kill, with the cops in the background trying to find him. It was all about speed now, instead of fluff.
Maybe I’ll use the mob elsewhere, but for TDW, they weren’t needed.
Unwriting can be hard. Taking those precious words you’ve though of and saying NO to them… it’s like saying no to yourself. But think about the writing, the body of work – that’s all that counts. Find the slow parts, the word dumps, the people that don’t belong, and either work them elsewhere or get rid of them.
So I leave the floor to you now… have you ever had to unwrite some things in your writing? If so, was it just a sentence or two or a big part of the book?