Have You Pruned Your Writing Lately?

by Kimberly A. Cook           (Twitter@ WarriorTales)

Last Friday we had a sunny day. Since the monsoons were rolling in Saturday, I jumped out into the yard first thing and pruned my roses. Since I’m not really sure what I’m doing, I’d looked at how the landscapers pruned my Mom’s roses. Pretty severe.

Rose bushes before the great prune-off .....

Rose bushes before the great prune-off …..

Hacking away at the poor bushes reminded me of editing. Like the time I threw out two-thirds of a fiction manuscript and started over. Painful but necessary. It got me to thinking of the top three edits writers need to make, but many times do not. I know these three because I have done them all and still do; then I have to self-prune my writing.

1. Back story overload: Because you know everything about your character from her favorite nail polish to her indigestion issues does not mean the reader needs to know it. We create our characters so we can react how our characters would react and know their motivations. DO NOT put every single item about your character in the book or the first chapter. Sprinkle observations and quirks throughout the manuscript to unfold layers of your heroine and let the reader get to bond with her. Do not overshare or for the younger set do not TMI. (Too much information!)

2. Research hurling: This is a close cousin to back story overload. Research hurling means the writer throws every single tidbit they discovered about the time period, horse carriages, leather harness, brass wax and currier combs into the story. Stop the madness! Pick important details which move the story forward or provide some scene setting but don’t slow down the story. If you get bored editing it, a reader will be comatose.

3. Starting before the action: Everybody does this, really. Then the good writers edit it out. The reader does not need to know exactly what year, political structure or cult history brought the hero to this point in his life – we need to know what is happening right now. Instead of explaining the entire history of the Reno Rodeo, how about starting with the hero trying to escape from the pounding hooves of the bull he’s been thrown from onto the dirt. Drop the history stuff in later as the story requires or if it is important to the character arc. If it doesn’t advance the story, don’t use it.

Self-editing is one of the hardest things to do for beginning writers and all writers. But the more times you edit, the better you become at letting your story free from the overgrowth of deadwood which doesn’t let it grow. Hopefully like my pruned rose bushes. Prune away!

Rose sticks afterwards. Stay tuned for June!

Rose sticks afterwards. Stay tuned for June!



Filed under Fiction Writing

2 responses to “Have You Pruned Your Writing Lately?

  1. Great post. We had this discussion during the writing group meeting last night. Sometimes it’s just hard to “kill the darlings.”

    • Thanks for the kudos! So true about the darlings. I’ve had a few of them rise from the grave and have to be killed again. Zombie darlings, I think. Sometimes I just can’t trust myself to do the right thing the first or second time.

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