The Great Cut: Excellence vs. Perfection in Revision.

This is my eighth 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.

Well, after 7 weeks I have successfully completed the first pass through my novel with the goal of cutting 50,000+ words.  My final word count is 125,939. That’s over 45,000 words cut!

Earlier this year, I may have poured myself a glass of wine and danced around my bungalow shouting, “It’s finally perfect.” Yet,  today I am reminded of the words of Michael J. Fox when he said, “I am careful not to confuse excellence with perfection. Excellence, I can reach for; perfection is God’s business.”

Revision is a process of excellence not perfection. When I first considered the idea of cutting my novel, I was resistant. I now wonder how many writer’s get stuck right there. If we believe something is perfect it can’t be improved or revised. Taken further, there are no perfect novels but there are plenty of excellent ones.

When I took my first writing class in college, our teacher shared with us a series of revisions E.B. White had made to the introduction of Charolette’s Web. I remember raising my hand and saying, “There’s no way he could have revised the whole book like this.” My teacher simply raised an eyebrow and smiled. I finally get it.

The Great Cut: “Get to the point.” A few points about cutting dialogue.

This is my seventh 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.

Our characters are a sum of their words and dialogue is the window into their souls. For the writer, dialogue is an intimate channeling, and for the reader, a voyeur’s delight. Sharp, faced paced dialogue keeps the reader engaged and brings clarity to our characters in ways description cannot.

In terms of revision, dialogue has a major influence on pacing. Unnecessary attributions, tags and descriptive elements can slow down a story. Remember that if characters aren’t engaging and memorable then there’s no point to read about them.

Sometimes, we fall too much in love with our characters’ voices and become their muses. Saying too much is usually a greater sin than saying too little. Ask yourself, “Does this dialogue have any meaningful contribution to story or character arc?” If not, you may want to cut it out.

Below, is an example of a scene where my adolescent protagonist, Cana, is talking to a boy, Blandus, about a monster he witnessed. I cut the scene because neither Blandus nor his experience played a significant role in the story arc. It also was not important to Cana’s character arc.

Blandus stood behind his father Laelius who was cutting cheese and wrapping it in cloth. One of the boy’s eyes was bloodshot and his face was covered in bruises.

Lucia stepped into the front of the line and nodded her head respectfully. Laelius’s eyes widened in surprise. “Lucia? I haven’t seen you since…well…before. I heard about Icabus. I’m sorry.”

“Thank you, Laelius,” she spoke quietly. “Is your boy okay?”

Laelius looked over his shoulder nervously. “Oh, he’s fine. He just fell. You know kids.”

A horrified look crossed Blandus’s face and he turned away. Lucia touched Cana and the shoulder and said, “Why don’t you say hi to Blandus while I get a few things?”

Laelius nodded and Cana squeezed between the stands. Laelius handed her a piece of cheese on a stick, “On the house,” he said.

“So what do you have to trade today?” Laelius asked.

As Lucia explained her various tinctures and herbal preparations, including a salve, which she claimed would ease the swelling and soothe Blandus’s face,” Cana sat with Blandus.

“How did you fall?” she asked.

Blandus looked at his Father who was smelling the various contents of Lucia’s bottles. “Out of a tree,” he said.

“I’ve fallen out of a tree and my face never looked like that.” She grabbed one of his hands. “How is it that you did that to your face and you don’t even got a scratch on your hands.”

Blandus looked again to his father, who was still preoccupied, and whispered. “I’ll tell you but you have to promise not to tell anybody?”

Cana nodded and made a crossing motion over her heart. “A few nights ago, I heard the goats crying. I thought they were hungry but when I went to see what was wrong, I was attacked.”

“By what?”

“A monster.”

“A monster?”

Blandus nodded. “Like the one people talk about in the woods, but it wasn’t in the woods, it was in my backyard.”

“You got away. It’s okay now.”

Blandus looked down. “Yah, the monster told me to run and not look back. He killed my goats.”

Blandus began to sob and Laelius looked over his shoulder. “Blandus?”

“I’m okay. My face hurts, that’s all.”

“Better make it two salves,” Laelius said to Lucia, “and one of the dropsy cures for fever.”