Editing the first draft – Preliminary cuts – step 2/7


Hello! For those of you who have just arrived, this post is part 2/7 in my ‘editing the first draft’ action plan. You can find links to the other sections below, once all posts are live (one will be posted each day this week!).

  1. Print it off.
  2. Have a preliminary read through and cut out any initial ‘waffle’ that doesn’t serve the scene, and overall plot.
  3. Create ‘character sketches’.
  4. Create a ‘scene list’.
  5. Using the printed draft and the scene list, assess each scene in line with a ‘scene/sequel’ framework.
    5a. Cull any further waffle. Reorder scenes where necessary.
    5b. Add in scenes/notes for key details that may have been missed first time around.
  6. Write a descriptive summary of the entire plot, from start to finish
  7. Face the second draft with a new-found confidence that you will be able to write and edit with more focus and clarity.

2. Cut out any ‘waffle’ that doesn’t serve you

With my printed draft in front of me, I had a preliminary read through of my story and cut out paragraphs and, in some cases, whole scenes that were quite clearly not serving any purpose to my plot. If you are anything like me, you may find you become rather attached to certain scenes, events and characters, so cutting them out may be tricky. All I can say is that you MUST be ruthless and if you know, deep down that they don’t belong, you are doing yourself a favour and improving your writing by being brave and giving them the boot. The hoarder deep within me finds this hard, but once you let go of the extra weight, you will feel much better for it, trust me.

Cutting out chunks of writing that I had spent a lot of time writing may sound pretty painful, however, reading through my story with fresh eyes did two things for me:

  1. It reminded me that I’ve written a lot of good stuff.
  2. It showed me that alongside a lot of the good stuff, I’ve gone off on way too many tangents in some places, resulting in a lot of irrelevant, rambling rubbish. 

So firstly, it’s great to know that my writing isn’t actually as crap as I remember it being – phew, that’s a relief. Secondly, it’s unsurprising that there is plenty of irrelevant rubbish in my first draft – it is a first draft after all, and part of the fun for me was finding my feet with the story as I went, rather than planning it within the confines of a straight-jacket. What is important here is the ability to be objective – by recognising that there is plenty of stuff to cut out shows you are already exercising the skill and critical eye necessary to be ruthless with your edits.

Why is it important to cut stuff out?

As Heather and I (alongside countless other people) continually stress, it is so important that your scenes are focused and drive your character to the end goal – never lose sight of this. For example, if you have a scene that goes into great detail about your character going to work but nothing relevant to the plot happens there, it needs to be cut, sharpish! It will bore your reader and they will likely lose interest.

I summed this up in a previous post where I explained why having goals is paramount to a successful novel, and I’ll repeat it here because it really is that important!

Having a story goal is paramount to a successful story. Without one, you may have a book but you do not have a story. It gives your characters reason to do what they do, AND it gives you, the writer, a target that propels your story forward and gives it meaning – a reason for being. Granted, you are first and foremost writing with the purpose to entertain, but without a goal, your novel will struggle to be entertaining. It will be a series of non-events that are happening for absolutely no reason, with nothing at stake. Who cares? Your story goal gives your reader a reason to care.

So to summarise, it is important to cut stuff out because it will make what is left in stronger. Cutting the waffle will make your writing focused, and with that, more entertaining and gripping.

How do I know what to cut so early on?

You may find that, at such an early stage in your editing, it may be hard at first to identify all unnecessary stuff. So I would suggest you do what I did and at this stage, only cut out the stuff that is so obviously irrelevant. Don’t worry about missing anything, a second cull in Stage 5 can be made once you’ve assessed the content further.

When you are ready head over to step 3, where we will talk about creating character sketches and how these will be useful when it comes to your second draft!

Now on to step 3, ‘creating character sketches’ >>>>>>>

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