Tuesday, March 8, 2011

The Reluctant Editor



(To enhance your reading experience: read the following ’graph really fast with lots of hand gestures and a infomercial voice)
Are you a reluctant editor? Do you save your darlings instead of murdering them? Do you have a hard time knowing which scenes burden your ‘script vs. enhance it? Then I have an exercise for you.  (Nice voice.You could totally work for ShamWow!)
When I like the movie, I will often pop over to the Bonus Features and watch the deleted scenes. I think it’s interesting what the director cuts and why. Sometimes the director will offer commentary for tanking a scene, but most often, we’re given the scenes to watch and the reasoning is on us. I think we tend to agree with most of them and understand the time and budgeting constraints, but there are times when I disagree.
I watched a movie recently that had several scenes that I thought would’ve enhanced the movie—one scene in particular. I was kinda miffed for a minute, shaking my fist at the director for shortchanging me. I let it go, ’cause I’m a forgiver not a fighter, and started thinking about my work in progress.  I know I need to shed a couple scenes, maybe even a whole chapter, but how do I choose? Will I make a crucial mistake? Hitting delete is a big deal, right?
So here’s my exercise. Go check out one of your favorite shows. I think it is important to find one that you like, one that you’re invested in—like your novel. Check out the deleted scenes and without hearing the director’s reasoning for deleting a certain scene, I want you to think about it, analyze why it didn’t make the cut.
Here’s my own run through of the movie Leap Year

The show is about an uptight American (Anna) who plans her life away. Things seem to be rolling smoothly for Anna, especially when she suspects her boyfriend of five years is about to propose. Too bad he gives her earrings instead—lame. Honoring an Irish tradition that allows women to propose to her fella on Leap Day, Anna follows her boyfriend to Ireland to propose to him. But through a whole mess of mishaps, Anna meets snarky Declan and hires him to help her get to Dublin. It’s a romantic comedy so I’m sure you can guess what happens next.
The first scenes that were cut involved Anna’s father played by John Lithgow. At first, I thought what a shame because I like that actor. He ended up in only one tiny scene in the entire movie, but honestly, it was all we needed. We got the gist of who this guy was and his role in Anna's life through his five minutes on screen and her actions throughout. Too much would’ve been too much and I’m not sure I would’ve bought her character as much with those scenes.
The one scene that I actually would've liked to watch was one that showed Anna and her boyfriend after she and Declan parted ways. It cemented my belief that her boyfriend was not who she should be with. But as I got thinking, I already knew that. If I had written this scene in one of my novels, I know one of my critique partners would’ve marked me up for beating her over the head with details. And she would’ve been right. We want Anna to hurry back to Declan not bathe in the fact she’s with the wrong dude. We know already. Run Anna. Run to Declan.
Then, there were a couple scenes that I knew immediately why they were cut. They were repetitive and unnecessary. Just because something is cute or funny doesn’t mean it belongs in a certain work. I am a writer who likes to throw in the funny, even when I probably shouldn't. I also need to trust my reader more and R.U.E. (resist the urge to explain).

So what do you think? Are you a reluctant editor or can you tell when something isn’t working?

17 comments:

Meika said...

I've always been one to watch deleted scenes and lament on their absence in the movies or tv shows. But you make a good point. Just because it's cute, doesn't mean it belongs there. It's just gonna slow things down! Now I have to take a look at my WiP...

Great post!

stickynotestories said...

I'm a reluctant editor. My last round of crits told me to cut Chapter 5 (all of it) and I rebelled for a long time because Chapter 5 was my *favorite* chapter of the whole book. I finally realized that of course it was - all that was in Chapter 5 was fluff that didn't move the story forward. I liked it because I had so much fun writing it, but it didn't belong and was completely OOC for my MC.

I'm also an over-explainer (no, can't tell that from the paragraph above...) ;)

akossket said...

I kill some, save others, and resurrect some others. :)

Kristine Asselin said...

Great post--I need do to some cutting too. I tend to show, then tell. And not trust my readers to understand with just showing. No need to bash them over the head! Thanks for the reminder!

Rusty Fischer said...

This is a great post! I tend to "edit in reverse," by starting with a small word count, maybe 20k or so, that has all the essential elements, characters, action, plotting, setting and finale worked out, then I go back through and layer in the details I think are missing upon a second read, until it's about 30k, then another read until i've added some more characterization, maybe energized the plot or built up a back story, etc. I rinse, lather and repeat until I'm satisfied the story is complete and that anything I could do without a professional editor -- i.e. publisher or agent's -- help would be counterproductive. It works for me, but posts like this always help me refine the process a little more. Sorry for the rant; maybe I should have self-edited IT!!!

Girl Friday said...

Great post. Unfortunately I find it a lot easier to 'edit' someone else's work than my own :)

Lisa Gail Green said...

Oh it's sooo hard to cut those darlings, but I always smile when I read how much tighter the ms sounds!

Lucy V Morgan said...

I actually love editing -- my work, somebody else's work...I like editing more than writing, lol.

I think part of it is reading through my finished piece and noticing themes and metaphors knitted in, things I hadn't even thought of or consciously applied. Easing them into the surface of the text, just gently -- it's so satisfying.

I read a Brett Easton Ellis quote today about the selfishness of writing; about how you're doing what you want to do and "basically masturbating at the desk." As crude a metaphor as it is, I think this is what editing is like for me -- "what ho! What brilliance is this? I'm much better than I thought!"

There's a lovely optimism about editing; things can only get better.

Susan Kane said...

I am a brutal self-editor. I tend to 'slash and burn' when I look at my work with a jaundiced eye. Of course, that really means cut and paste, and dump the exiled mat'l in a file. Thank you reminding me about doing that.

Michael Offutt said...

I'm a pretty good self editor. I slashed 50000 words out of my manuscript once and then rewrote another 40,000 words or so.

Ann Best said...

It's so difficult to see your own writing. But I think I'm getting better at seeing what to edit out. First thing I do is let the draft sit for several WEEKS. It's amazing what happens when I come back to it!!

A good post. I found you on Clarissa Draper's blog and came over to meet you. I'm now a follower.
Ann Best, Long Journey Home

Trisha said...

This is good advice! I'm going to have to check it out with some of my favourite movies. :D

I definitely save my darlings, but in a separate file to my main ms. I still have trouble figuring out what to cut though.

Stacy S. Jensen said...

I'm not the best self editor. I can see problems with other work, but not my own. Reading it out loud helps. I like this exercise with the movies.

Elisabeth Hirsch said...

This is such an awesome idea! I love it AND that movie ;) Ireland--I'm going to visit it someday.

Julie Musil said...

I don't always see it right away. If my critique partners think it's unnecessary, then I'll wait a couple of days. In the end, I have no problem cutting if it needs to go. (Loved Leap Year, by the way)

Susan Kane said...

I came back to see what the others have written. They are so wise. Today I did some re-writing, after the slash and burn blood had receded.
Have you ever seen P.S. I Love You with Hilary Swank and Gerard Butler? Great Irish scenery! Keep being true to yourself.

Diana said...

Behind on somethings and have neglected my comments. Sorry. It sounds like most know how to cut when they need to. I think it takes practice to hit delete. I'm still practicing. Thankfully, I have some great critiquers who keep me straight. :)

Susan-I have a thing about Ireland. The accent, the scenery, everything. I haven't seen P.S. I love you. I'm going to have to check it out.