When I first started writing, I thought I had to include everything. If the character was going to walk out a door, I had to include him walking to the door, turning the knob and pulling it open. In addition to all that business, he had to walk through and close it behind him. Is it any wonder that Indian Summer was 98,266 words before I edited it back?
Admittedly, I've gotten pretty good at editing. Probably, because my first books need a lot of help. I've been working on The Maker, book 3 of my sci-fi series. It started at almost 400 pages. I don't even remember the word count, probably close to 180,000. It is now whittled back to just under 300 pages and a word count of 120,000. My question for myself and my editor, is that still too much? Book cost is based on page count. I don't want to price myself out of the market, but there's a lot that has to happen in this novel. It's pivotal and introduces new characters who are integral to the plot later. It also introduces and ties up some sub-plots.
I've done the hacking and slashing part – that's where I medically remove all the deadwood. I print out the manuscript and read through it, being brutal. Do I need this scene? No. Should I cut this one? Yes. I sometimes refer to this process as the Slash and Burn Phase. One thing I've learned over the years – save everything. Well, if it's a word or two here or there, I don't, but the big, hulking bits I remove, all go into a file and I hang onto them. I never know if I'll need that information after all, or will use it in something else. There have been a couple times that I have done that.
Looking through my book files, I can tell which books are the oldest, because I have dozens of permutations of the file. I have some that are so old, they go back to the days when I was using Word Perfect as my word processing program.
I have discs full of files dating back to the early 2000s when I first started writing full time. These are the books that require the most heavy editing. I have learned a lot over the years. When I go back and read some of my earliest books, like my sci-fi series, I wonder how I could ever have written like that. However, there are some scenes that really came out well and I'm still very proud of them.
One of the best scenes in the book (in my opinion) is where the four main characters are in the depths of the planet, pursuing an escaped prisoner. The inside of the planet is riddled with tunnels and conduits. They get chased by a group of angry, dark skinned men and head into one of the metal conduits. The floor gives out and the heroine falls into a bottomless pit. Her husband reaches for her, but isn't quick enough to save her. All he can do is watch her fall.
Not knowing if she's alive or dead, he returns to their ship, nearly helpless with grief. He can't believe she's dead and wants to form a rescue party and go after her, but he's unable to formulate a plan. For a seasoned warrior, who's survived more campaigns and planned more missions than ten other men, it's horrific to find that he can't even think clearly.
I read through that scene a couple nights ago and had myself in tears. I got the emotions just right, I found the words to express how bereft he felt. I described the hollowness in his soul without her. I sat there, mentally patting myself on the back, saying, “Yeah, you nailed it.”
Editing may be a pain in the neck, but when the book is done and finally published, I can look at it and say to myself, “Yeah, you nailed it.”
© 2016 Dellani Oakes
Dellani Oakes is the author of 12 published novels and over 100 more which haven't been published yet. She's a Blog Talk Radio host on the Red River Radio Network. She's also former A.P. English teacher and journalist.