The Great Cut: Inside Out Vs. Outside In

This is my second post on novel revision. The goal: cut 50,000 words from my 172,000 word fantasy novel to make it a marketable piece of fiction.

In my initial queries to literary agents it never occurred to me that my book might be rejected because of how it started. Then I learned about the difference between starting a story inside out vs. outside in.

Think of your favorite film… How did it start? I bet it set the scene. This is common in film. Sadly, I found it is also a good way to get a potential agent or editor to stop reading your manuscript. Eek!

Movies often start outside-in. They establish the scene and move in. Novels work from the inside-out. They start with what matters and build around it.

So how did my novel start? Gasp! THREE PARAGRAPHS OF DESCRIPTION.

After axing the paragraphs quoted below, I opened the scene with dialogue and action and built my setting around it. I went inside-out.

Stay tuned for my next revision post.

“The three ships looked abandoned. They were moored together fore to aft forming a makeshift triangle. Tattered white sails flapped lifelessly against sun-bleached masts. Over deck nothing moved except for the wandering carrion flies, attracted by an air of decay.

Even if the sails were mended, the oars not broken and the men not dead, there was nowhere for the ships to go. The channel where they rested was one of hundreds in a labyrinth of terminal waterways that formed the forest lake. Here, the floating islands of trees held dominion.  They moved with the wind and the currents, forming new waterways and abolishing others. All channels appeared to lead to the island at the center of the lake but no path led there.

It started with a stirring in the water. First, the crickets fell silent and then the flies. A ripple spread out from the ships into the forest causing the hallow trees to rustle like wooden chimes. One by one, the patches of floating trees drifted near, surrounding the ships and closing the channels. Tree shadows covered the ships and again there was silence.”


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