The hardest goodbye.

For a writer, receiving a rejection letter is one of the hardest things you’ll have to face. But probably the second hardest is realising that what you’re writing is going nowhere, or that it has no place within the context of a longer work.

Earlier this year, I began to edit a novel I wrote four years ago because the current storyline wasn’t working. This meant cutting out several sections I liked, such as the 10,000 words where the main character arranges to rent a minibus with six football fans when their plane is cancelled.

Once I decided on a new plot direction, I needed to fill in the gaps. But around 2000 words into what I thought was a great idea, I found I was bored while writing it. These will therefore be cut on my next edit. And I still don’t know the exact direction I’m going to take the book.

Nevertheless, always keep the parts you cut out; you never know when they might be handy in the future.

I was given a writing group challenge to come up with a story that included an A to Z structure, however loose that structure might be. My story was called The Eternal Student, and it centred around a young man from a family of accountants who had been sent to university to gain the formal qualifications. As he knows it all, he enrols in evening classes through boredom, each with a name one letter higher than the last. It would then have gone on to describe his disillusionment with university management and how he set up his own institution.

With 1500 words on the page, there was no more mileage left in the idea, so I put it to one side. A few months later, An Abundance of Apples was born, using the idea of an A to Z structure.

A year after The Eternal Student was penned, I rediscovered it in my files. Using a fresh cast and a different situation, I borrowed the element of disillusionment and wrote another story called Plans that ended with the main character setting up a new university. This then inspired another novel starring the same character and borrowing some elements from Plans.

And to date, I still haven’t been able to do anything else with my trainee accountant.

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The Final Cut.

Further to the publication of the Alternate Hilarities anthology, I’ve been interviewed by Strange Musings Press. I’ve also received two paper copies of the book, but I’ll read the electronic version and keep the physical copies pristine and flat.

The story in that anthology is 1,160 words long, but in fiction, as in food, it’s sometimes necessary to cut down. I’m a great fan of reading work aloud. It’s a very good way of finding where one clause would be better than two, or where a semicolon could replace several words.

I only half-follow Elmore Leonard’s advice to Kill your darlings. In other words, to cross out any lines you particularly like. I think that’s fair game if the line in question has been squeezed in where it’s inappropriate, but if it’s the perfect means of expressing what you mean, I say jolly well leave it in.

But what if the problem is not just a line or two, but whole chunks of text? I encountered this problem with a 1,000-word story I wrote well over a year ago. I simply couldn’t make it work to my satisfaction. I shuffled round a few of the characters, who are all introduced as they enter a house, but I still couldn’t make the story flow.

In the end, I cut out the first 700 words, and I’m much happier. All the characters are still there, but it works by starting when they’re already in the house. The dialogue explains the immediate situation, and the twist makes the reader fill in the gaps.

But what to do with the cut part? Don’t delete or bin it, whatever you do. You’ve worked your hardest on it, and it deserves to be seen. I’ve recently started to maintain a list of story stems, those ideas that have thus far gone nowhere. Some are mere seeds, others are massive chunks, but they’re waiting with their jackets on in case the right alternative idea comes along.

Since constructing my list, I’ve used three of the stems. Once I use them all, I’ll need to start actually thinking again.