Snip, Snip, Snip. Oh, the pain! Cutting your manuscript.

By Robin D. Owens

But that was the best line. The funniest. The most heartfelt and tender. And the whole scene must be cut.

I write long – that is, for a 100K word novel contract, I usually hit 103K, and have been known to go up to, ah, I think 120K. That means, for a hardcopy book, more paper, more expense for my publisher, and/or smaller print (wince). I once signed on for a short story, 16K words max, and mine came in at 17.5. I got it down to 15,900, but other people had come in long and I was cut from the anthology. (I later put the words back in and the story was published in my only collection, Hearts and Swords, which also ran hideously long and should have been 3 stories instead of 4, but I said 4 for the back cover copy, and...).

Or, and I've heard this (lately), "the pacing is too slow, cut words from the front of the book." Snip, snip, snip and 3,000 are gone, scenes I loved.

Or, "This is a novella, not one of your regular books, the hero and heroine need to meet sooner..."

I've gotten really good at cutting. The easiest way is to tighten the book until it squeaks. No, "the ghost dog jumped into the bed of the truck." Nope. "Enzo jumped into the truck bed."

First, check chapters. If I really have to cut, any chapter that has less than thirteen lines on the last page gets tightened.

Look at every paragraph in your manuscript and check for those that have one word at the end, and see if you can reword and tighten. And, yes, this takes time. And, yes, sometimes the answer is "No, I can't tighten this." For me, the answer is "no" about five percent of the time.

That's the technical part. What about the emotional part?

When I was writing my second fantasy romance, since I hadn't sold the first fantasy romance, I cut all the romance and changed the story to a straight fantasy. I was about half way through the story when my first fantasy romance sold. So all the additional world building and strictly fantasy scenes I put in Had To Go. Talk about painful.

What I finally decided to do was put "cut scenes" up on my (old) website, particularly for that book. That eased my emotional pain considerably. The scenes weren't totally lost forever, never to see the light of day.

This has continued to serve me well. My fans know that I write long, and I have "cut scenes" for almost every story. On Facebook and my blog I've instituted "Celta Thursday" for the readers who like that particular series the most (a Celtic pagan society set on another planet colonized by Earth people with psi powers). Sometimes I put up maps, of the world, or of an interior room. Sometimes I put up images of the characters. But most often I compare the rough draft of a manuscript with the final copy edits and pull out cut scenes.

DON'T DELETE THOSE SCENES YOU CUT, ALWAYS SAVE THEM. (All right, if they are worth saving. I do have a "learning how to write book" that will never be seen.)

You will have people who like your stories. You will want to give extras to them because they say wonderful things about your writing. Save your cuts, and tell yourself you'll put them somewhere else to be admired, that funny line, that whole lovely thread or subplot... This will help you get through the snip, snip, snip.

And, trust me, baby, eventually it does get easier . . . mostly.

Robin D. Owens
RITA® Award Winning novelist Robin D. Owens credits the telepathic cat with attitude in selling her first futuristic/fantasy romance, HeartMate, published in December 2001. Since then she has written fourteen books in the series, Heart Fire the latest in November 2014.

Her five book Luna series included average American women Summoned into another dimension to save a world. Her Mystic Circle series was a mixture of contemporary urban and romantic fantasy set in Denver.

And her newest stories, about an uptight accountant who sees Old West ghosts and helps them move on, started with Ghost Seer in April 2014. She is profoundly thankful to be recipient of the 2004 Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers’ Writer of the Year award as well as the 2011 Writer of the Year Award, the Colorado Romance Writers Lifetime Achievement Award and the 2010 Best Paranormal and Best of the Best Daphne Du Maurier Award. More about Robin on her website.

5 thoughts on “Snip, Snip, Snip. Oh, the pain! Cutting your manuscript.

  1. Great post. I have found myself fighting for days trying to keep a scene I just love or trying to work around a great character who really doesn’t belong. My favorite part of your advice is to never throw away the cuts – I keep a file called “spare parts” and that has all my cuts – if they’re good enough – and I’ve managed to use several of them in other manuscripts. I never thought of using them like “out takes” in a movie – now if I just had all those fans to see them….

  2. Excellent post, Robin, but a grim reminder of my editor telling me to cut the whole last chapter of my upcoming release. Her comment? “I don’t even know what you were trying to do there!”

    Yes, I cut the whole chapter. And yes, it made the book better. It was still hard to do, though.

  3. Oh my, do I need the super, duper hedge trimmers for my first novel’s first draft. There are two books in there. But they have to get out before they can be cut. You don’t go to the barber to cut hair that hasn’t grown. So I’ve let the manuscript grow, knowing it will be seriously hacked to pieces that fit together much better. Seldom have I resisted a “cutting” suggestion. But yes, they hang out in my notes locker, waiting to be used another day.

  4. Snip, snip. LOL, Robin. I have a file of cut scenes and pages, but I named it as “Leftovers.” How boring compared to yours, which must be “Gems to Recycle.” Excellent ideas! Thanks for sharing! –Janet Lane

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