I’ve learned many things from my editor over the years. I think one of the most important is that you should be able to justify the existence of every single scene in your novel. There should be a reason for it – whether it’s moving the story forward, revealing things about your characters, or forming the world they live in. It must have a purpose, and that purpose needs to be for the good of the story.
So what does that mean? It means that over the years I’ve had to cut a lot of scenes and moments that I really adored, but in the end they weren’t helping the story. In fact, they were hurting it. They were black holes, places that would leave the reader either bored, skimming pages, or worst of all, they would probably stop reading altogether.
Writing is a personal thing. As writers we get attached to the characters we create and I’ve even taken it a step further: I get attached to the scenes I’ve played out in my head. I’ve planned them all perfectly. I’ve walked through certain moments over and over and over again and then I finally reach that point in the story where it’s going to happen and. . .my editor says, “Why is this here?”
It’s always a little bit devastating. Because what comes next is me rambling, searching for answers. I can usually come up with some, but then comes my editor’s inevitable next question: “And how does that move the story forward?”
That’s my life.
Now, it might sound like a bummer, but actually it’s a positive she’s so forward about such things. She’s not afraid to question me, and over the years I’ve learned to appreciate that more than fear it. It’s pushed me to be a better writer and to think about the pacing and structure of my stories.
If I were left totally on my own, my characters would be running down bunny trails, chasing loose ends to story points that don’t matter, buying real estate they don’t need (and you readers would get the in-depth analysis about it), and they’d be having lots of pleasant conversations that go nowhere.
Granted I’ve gotten better over the years, but I’ve definitely done my time walking in circles and having my characters follow me.
So now, as I start my fourth full-length novel (book two in the Horns & Halos series), I’ve decided to hold myself accountable for each and every scene before my editor ever gets to see it. I use the writing program Scrivener, and one of the things I really like about Scrivener is that it gives each scene a notecard. I use these little cards to jot down the gist of each scene. Usually just three or four sentences. But this time around I’m adding something new to them.
As I work on each chapter of Horns & Halos 2: All Of Them Criminals, I’m adding a “What’s the point?” section to the notecards. For each scene I’m purposely thinking about – and writing down – why it’s there. What it’s revealing. What I am trying to get across to the reader. How it moves the story forward, and so on.
Now, I haven’t gotten very far with this yet, but already I’m feeling assured about it. Hopefully, when the day comes that I sit down with my editor to start working through this novel, I won’t have to hear those dreaded words: How is this moving the story forward?
Check out book one in the Horns & Halos series now! Click HERE!
And don’t forget about the Horns & Halos short story Boy-Eating Plants.
Read it for FREE HERE!