removing a subplot

Writing is Perseverance; Editing is War

Writing is Perseverance; Editing is War

To get to the end of a first draft is a marvellous thing.  It’s hard to know how it happened.  It involves a kind of alchemy.  All manner of things, known and unknown go into it and finally, there it is.  We know, if we are worth our salt, there is more to be done.  Sometimes, there is much more.  We have wandered from the path, dithered about in the wilderness, trying this and that, before we return to the true tale.  We are struck by false epiphanies, which take us places we never meant to go – the severed head of our main character, when there was so much more to tell.

This is how it goes sometimes and so, even as we are writing our last, we are thinking of the time to come when we must split our personalities in two and become, in our writerly moments, what we most abhor.  Needs be that we set passion aside and pick up the sword.  I’ve read somewhere (Stephen King’s, On Writing, perhaps) that we should slash around ten percent of a work as a matter of course.  It sounds harsh, particularly if we (most of us) sweat and hang-wring over our work.  The word attrition can be much more, if we discover a subplot or a character or any other kind of embedded element which does nothing for the story or worse still, detracts from it.

In the first instance, we might look at this monstrosity and turn away.  Perhaps on another reading, it might work, we say to ourselves.  This could be true.  The blood lust could be up and we may be guilty of killing the innocent with the guilty.  This happens.  Ask the despots.  But what if our first instinct is right and we must wade in deep with our sword in hand?

I think we are best to revisit our first conceptions of the story and what we meant it to be.  This can easily be forgotten, submerged under the weight of the first draft, but remember though, this is what forced our hand in the first place.  It’s odd when we rediscover it.  We can feel the exact same way we did so long ago and it is possible that what we have written can be held up and examined in light of it.  And then finally, some decisions can be made.  A NOTE OF CAUTION here:  If a slashing is what’s needed, do be sure to keep your first draft whole, even if you are so very sure.  Even if you are very, very, very sure.  The future is impossible to foresee.

If it is a character or a subplot you are needing to be rid of, remember too all instances of it, in all chapters, must die.  It’s a Medusa we are dealing with.  Cut off all its heads.  Surgical stitching will be needed for what remains, a careful drawing together of the story again.  Watch out for changes in the story’s rhythm.  Things may move too quickly or too slowly with the parts removed.   If it is a character who has fallen, what information was conveyed between them and the other characters?  This could be vital to the story and needs to be told to the reader in another way.

The same could be said of a subplot.  Everything we write is multi-layered.  In one scene, we may provide a sense of place, characterisation, backstory and foreshadowing.  We often do and so editing is not so simple as an “off with the head”.  Sometimes a fine stiletto blade is in order.  It takes a deft flick of the wrist.

And so the work begins.

Posted by Gabrielle Blondell in Writing