Last week I spoke to an adolescent lit class at the local university. This is something I do each semester. They’ve always read one of my books beforehand, so that’s nice, but this session was especially fun as each student had a question ready. After the formal session I was chatting with them one on one as I signed books, and a woman wanted to know about the ending of the novel they’d all read, Come in from the Cold. “Why did you just jump to the end,” she said. “Suddenly they were married.”
I didn’t lose a beat, I’m proud to say. I said, “I thought I’d already told the reader all she needed to know to make the leap.” That answer seemed to make sense to the student and she said yes, she guessed she had known enough to make the leap.
I’m now in editing mode of a rough draft. I’m sifting through the scenes and extended dialogue asking of each passage, Is this part necessary? What does the reader need to know?
Those aren’t questions that can be asked too early in the process. And they have to be asked more than once as the revising reveals the real story. But oh dear, such good stuff is disappearing. What fun I had coming up with it. The reader will never see any of it, but during the long hard slog that’s a first draft at least I amused myself. Otherwise, why write?
I have a bad habit of revising some as I go, which always keeps me from moving ahead quickly. But whether I'm revising or writing forward, I find it helpful to think of this question, too. Nevertheless, I stick a lot of stuff in knowing it will eventually have to come out. But I find it's part of my discovery process.
I like the way Mary Logue states this question. She says, "What does the reader need to carry in his pocket?"
Oh, my. You must be reading my mind, Marsha. Last week I found myself agonizing over a couple of scenes I've always really liked in my drafted manuscript. When I wrote this part of the novel, I really didn't know yet what the story was about. I hated to admit that the scenes were really an interruption of the story and didn't serve a purpose, but that was the case and they needed to go.
Killing those darlings was hard. I can never really bury them, though, choosing instead to deposit them into a folder conveniently labeled "outtakes."
Over the weekend, I made an amazing discovery! One of my outtakes really did provide an important insight into the development of my protagonist, but not for the reason I had always thought! I was completely overlooking the most important emotional element of the scene. I was able to put the scene back into the novel, but use it in a new way–one that is completely relevant to the story. Knowing the *real story* was the key to making it work.
I just cruelly beheaded a darling. It hurt. It a was whole chapter that stuck out like a sore thumb, and the book is better without it, but…ouch.
Ah, revising. A lot like life – letting go, so the really great stuff has room to flower. But oh, those days, when I want it all.