Thursday, 29 March 2007

Kindest cuts?

It's been a while since my first post on this blog - and why is that? Because I've been engaged in the jolly activity of cutting my latest novel. The irony in all this is that I spend a lot of time advising my creative writing students to do this. I blithely tell them how important it is, how much you can cut and how this improves the work - and I've already been there myself. My first novel, The Chase, was ultimately cut by 50,000 words, can you believe it, before it was published. And it was improved no end by the cutting: all the purple prosey self-indulgence, all the travelogue and things-I-learnt-during-research-dear-reader, all the slowness, were taken out.

I remember thinking that I'd learned my lesson from the experience and would never fall into the trap again. Ho ho.

What I am learning is that in order to write, to see my way into the story, I have to over-write. I visualize the scenes so clearly I write every detail. Then I have to be tough - and start subtracting the superfluous from the integral.

It's a bit like your second experience of childbirth when the pain really gets a hold and you think 'Oh my God THIS is what it was like!' And there's no escape from the pain - but it is, as the midwife tells you, pain with a purpose. So that's OK then.

I'm faced with two kinds of cutting. The first I'm happy with: cutting for pace. Taking out the superfluous means that the momentum of the novel increases, the narrative drive is there, the heart of the story is visible. The reader can see the point of it all. So that really is pain with a purpose.

The second type of cutting is market-driven. Not so fond of this. Because I've written a children's book for a notional age-group I am told that publishers won't look at over 50,000 words for that group. This begs more than one question. Is the age-group right? If I make my hero a year older, can his peers suddenly cope with 10,000 more words when I write his story? And aren't children proving all the time these days that they can cope with challenging books of significant length? Won't there be queues round the block for the final instalment in a certain boy wizard's adventures in July? And what's the betting that book will be a tad over 50,000 words!

So, I'll go on whittling and sharpening the text and watching it come into sharper focus. But I won't fillet it to such a degree that I have in effect gutted it. I don't want to lose the essential quality that makes it unique, that makes it mine.

Muses and markets - always a balancing act.

Lorna F

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