All I Want for Christmas is a Chainsaw to Cut My Novel in Half

Guilt is for children with sticky fingers and mysterious stains.

I declare this to be true in defiance of all religious and sociological thought, because I don’t want to mess with guilt today. I haven’t posted for a month, and I don’t even need a reason, never mind a good reason, because I state that I do not.

Ignorance, however, is for everybody.

I am not as clever as God, nor am I even as clever as J.R.R. Tolkien. A couple of years ago I took on a fantasy novel project. After three months of obsessive writing, during which my wife suspected I was no more real than Bigfoot, I produced an 180,000 word story that I adored. To provide a sense of scale, 180,000 words are roughly the length of the New Testament, or The Fellowship of the Ring. What joy to stand among such giants.

God probably didn’t have to impress literary agents. Perhaps Tolkien didn’t either. I do, and agents let me know in a snapping hurry that 180,000 words is an unacceptable count for a novel, no matter how much I love it. If I can’t bring them something about 100,000 words or less, I should just go back to sitting around Starbucks and talking about the book I plan to start writing someday.

I had created a waddling beast of a manuscript.

I’ve met writers who spend years trying to fix their novel, ending up with a book that forever needs one more month of polish. So, I put the manuscript on the shelf like a third grade science medal, and I moved on to more disciplined projects.

This fall, with some of my newer projects floating out to agents, my Godzilla project arose from the shelf and dared me to cut it in half without killing it. I don’t want to get too detailed, but my process involved staring at an Escher print for about a month. Then I irradiated the manuscript for two months like I was a mad Japanese scientist, and I finished with a 103,000 word story. Today I celebrate.

Tightening language and eliminating redundancy got me part of the way there. Advice from Roz Morris of Nail Your Novel on ways to cut a novel was invaluable. But my secret weapon was to:

Find everything I love most in the story and kill it. Well, perhaps not everything, but a lot of things. The more I loved it, the less likely it was to really help the story. I silenced clever dialogue, I obliterated characters from the storyline, and I blasted subplots out of the space-time continuum.

With as much objectivity as I can manage, I believe that this version is a far better story than the original. Final editing can wait for my brain to quit vibrating, and anyway, I need to sit and stare at my Escher print for a while to think about the next project.

That’s what I hid in my office and did with my holiday season. I hope yours was just as much fun and just as terrifying.

BillMcCurryWriterEditingNovelLengthHumorFantasyBooks
Artist’s conception of an agent mesmerized by my newly-trimmed manuscript.

Artist: William-Adolphe_Bouguereau
Museum: Los Angeles County Museum of Art
Mary D. Keeler Bequest

 

 

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