Monday, July 19, 2010

Cuts like a Chainsaw

My absolute arch nemesis—bangs. I hate them and swear on my favorite Eeyore slippers I will never cut them again. Bangs and I have had a love-hate relationship from my middle-school days on. I’d get them, grow them out. Cut them again. Grow them out again. And one time, as a naïve, broke, and impatient college student—I decided to cut them myself.

Cue Pyscho music...

One jagged cut later, I felt the need to trim the left side, then the right. The left side again. Then the right again. Then the left… Okay—you get it. That big “oops” caused me to sport a baseball cap for the next month, trying to hide the indubitable travesty—yep—my bang job had become a botch job.

Heh heh. Good thing I don’t have my own pics of that one.

My not so bangin’ experience is analogous to where I’m at with what I like to call “my baby”, my first official novel with characters I heart to pieces and want the whole world to fall in love with too. The story that consumed my thoughts from the first word to the last. And the one that ended up being—gasp—175,000 words.

And after I finished it, I discovered—“my baby” was too long.

Too long? Seriously? I mean, what did I know? I read Harry Potter. My eleven year old brings home books rivaling the length of Twilight. 175,000 words? I was just happy to complete the bugger. Now you’re telling me I have to cut it? What?

Just to clue you in (because apparently I was not)—a typical debut YA novel contains between 50 to 75 thousand words. One agent informed me she couldn’t send anything off to a publisher over 80,000. And my story that I threw my heart and soul into for four months contained 175,000.

Shoot. Me. Now.

Soooo—instead of shoving my precious baby under the bed, I started cutting. And cutting some more. I got it down to 160 and thought I can’t possibly cut one more thing. Then my editor got a hold of it and a slash job ensued. Whole chapters gone, subsidiary characters killed off, frou-frou adverbs and adjectives—out the computer screen.

140,000. The “that” count went from 20,000 to 200. A little trim here, a snip-snip there. My novel dwindled to 120,000 then 112,000.

Painful much?

Sometimes. And sometimes not.

The other day, I changed the entire beginning—and lost my absolute favorite line of my novel. Scenes I crafted for ours—gone with one little click. Some parts – I felt like I cut my right arm off and others pierced my heart.

That little ditty about the “first cut is the deepest?” Ha.

Bu-ut, I do love re-reading my stories and falling in love with my characters all over again. I enjoy tightening, finding that magical dialogue that tells so much yet says so little. It’s an exciting challenge to make one word say five. And I re-read my manuscript now and beat myself over the head with my son’s lightsaber thinking How could I have sent it off looking like that?

Currently my novel sits at 102… and I’m still chopping. Yet while I mentally pat myself on the back every time I see the thousands digit change, I can’t help but feel like I did when I cut my bangs. I slash away, trim, trying to make my story perfect, when maybe all I’m doing is hacking it to unattractive stubs.

And that’s where the betas come in (PS—have lots of them). People to read my story, to critique it. Not only help me with the cuts, but also now assist me with the holes. The pieces I cut off and need to grow back.

Just FYI—the hair re-grew. And maybe I can be like Stephen King and The Stand. Sell it short. Come back years later and publish the “un-cut” version. Hmmm.


  1. I massacred a lot of my darlings last night, too. It's all part of it. DO keep a file of them, though. Mine is called "cutting room floor." You know - just in case. :)

  2. I am totally excited that you are writing a YA novel, Allison! I had no idea until I came across your blog the other day. So proud of you! That's a lot of word slashin' going on.

  3. Hey allison! I am an addicted reader and would love to read your novel. I can give you an objective and honest opinion about what parts drag and which parts are unnecessary, if you'd like. I can also pick out the only misspelled word in a 200,000 word novel! Wendy Liles. You can contact me on facebook.

  4. I've never had to cut that much out of a novel because I tend to draft short (thank freaking goodness) but my similar situation would be "cutting" an entire novel because I was going to re-write it from scratch. *sigh*


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