Some revisioning knowledge

I’ve been revising a novelette recently (the longest work I’ve written [well…except for the novel]) and I came to a conclusion about cutting words. Usually I’ll be going through a work for the tenth or eleventh time and I’ll suddenly realize that an entire scene, or an entire exchange, can easily be dispensed with. This is quite vexing.

This time I purposefully decided to go through and cut two thousand words. But every time I came to a cuttable part, I generated a plethora of reasons not to cut it. So I decided to cut everything I thought was even a little bit cuttable, and then see whether I wanted to put it back in the next pass. It’s a good shortcut. It fools the part of the brain that is unimaginative, and can only imagine the story the way it currently is. But the way it currently is is not the best way. I remember writing the story. When I began it, I did not know how it would end, and I added in all kinds of little hooks that I hoped would lead to an ending. Sometimes it is hard to remember that.

That’s probably my biggest problem with stories. Once I finish them, I forget that they could have been any other way. I forget that the decision of what to put in was kind of arbitrary and almost unconscious, and that, if I asked it to, my unconscious could probably supply something entirely different to occupy every major and minor point in the story, from the largest plot-point to the littlest noun. I sometimes think that it is wrong of me to put my stories aside for a few months before revising them. When I finish a story, I should immediately go back to the beginning and start rewriting it before the clay has hardened.

3 thoughts on “Some revisioning knowledge

  1. Ben Godby

    Haha, nice. I have the same problem, though I have not attempted your particular solution. Perhaps I will. It takes nearly a year for me to detach from a story enough to start cutting properly. Yikes.

  2. Alex Wilson

    Have you ever tried outlining (or reoutlining) the story after you’ve finished to see what’s necessary to the thing you ended up with? I don’t find that time away from a story is as important as becoming more vested in my next project is. It’s easier to discipline a child who’s no longer your favorite.

    1. R. H. Kanakia

      Yes, I actually outlined this particular novellette as the first stage of revision. I think it’s a useful way to try to intellectualize the process and see which scenes should be cut, especially since the best (and most efficient) cutting gets done at the scene level.

      My problem is not finding the discipline to make changes to a story during revision, it’s finding the necessary imagination. Once I’m invested in the next project, I’m no longer willing to reimagine the story I’ve already written. I can cut it down, using processes like the above, but I find it hard to write a new ending, or insert a new character, or such. That’s why I think it might be useful to begin certain kinds of revision while I am in or close to the first draft of the story.

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