My latest manuscript, my NaNoWriMo novel, “Forever My Song” was a rough draft outline of 80,000+ words. With 71 chapters. That’s a bit much for a non-epic novel. Sadly. And I’ve been stuck for weeks on this one…been trying desperately to make some progress, and though “writer’s block” has not been the issue, finding the next place to go with the manuscript has been because of feeling overwhelmed by the magnitude of it. Well, last night, I managed to figure out what my problem was (as you guessed by the number of chapters), I had too much info in this for one book, one story, one set of characters.
“But I can’t cut that! It’s too important!” Yeah, yeah. You’ve heard that in your own head as you’ve edited, too, haven’t you? “Well, tough toe-nails, Juanita! Cut it anyway!” And that’s what I did. I sat down with the original 71 chapter outline and this is what I did.
- I turned off my emotions…and separated myself from my beautiful characters–this step is key, my friends!
- I examined which current characters were necessary for the story, and which weren’t (I’m sorry Davy! I promise you will find a home in some other novel.)
- Then I cut the chapters that focused on the no longer existent characters
- And merged the info from the chapters still needed from those chapters with other chapters
- Then I created 3 different documents containing the outline, each one identical at this stage
- Next, I cut the fluffy chapters out of outline #1
- After that, I squished several other chapters together in outline #2
- And then, I trimmed 2-3 other chapters in outline #3
- Then I reviewed what I had done in each outline, and created a fourth outline from these
- Then, I cut more fluff by chopping out more chapters that didn’t actually move the plot forward
- Then I went back and reviewed the original outline to make sure I hadn’t cut anything actually vital to the story
And I ended up with only 49 chapters of the original 71 (that’s 22 chapters cut!).
Trimming the fat in a manuscript feels a bit like cutting out the chub on your waistline: you sweat a bit, and it hurts, takes dedication and requires some encouragement and lots of time. This whole process took me about two hours, after making the outline itself took me about four hours. Of course, as I continue writing, I will have more fat to trim. But that’s okay. At least now I can move forward with the writing. But, if your next book project is morbidly obese like mine was, it’s time to wake up and get to the gym for the first session. And then the second, and third and fourth and fifth…