Cutting Your First Draft

Yesterday I reached the end of my second draft of Cradlesnatch. Three weeks ago the first draft stood at 92,000 words. Today the word count is 62,000. I made the decision to cut it by a third for three important reasons:

1. It felt unwieldy and unmanageable. I couldn’t see the story shape clearly enough in my head.

2. The first draft took four years to write, in short 30 to 40 minutes chunks. I wrote in coffee shops, cafés and libraries – anywhere I could get a quite moment before work or during my lunch break. Writing in such a disconnected way meant the story meandered too much.

3. I write YA fiction, and 92,000 words is just too long for that market.

I’m amazed I’ve managed to do such a hard pruning job on the manuscript. But that’s exactly what it’s been like – pruning a rose. For those of you who garden, you’ll know just how close to the root you have to prune sometimes to achieve that beautiful rose bush. You need to cut back everything but the shoots that matter; to thin out the superfluous growth until you can step back and see the shape of the thing.

So what did I cut?

The Oxbow

My first problem was the story was taking too long to get from A to B, so I focused on the big story questions, and their resolution, and cut out the meandering parts of the story between the two, keeping only one or two main conflicts between my As and Bs, rather than a whole jumbled sub-plot.

The Crowded House

Second, I looked at my minor characters. I found some had whole sub-stories of their own, so I trimmed their involvement so their actions supported the focus of the main story rather than detracting from in.

The Repeater

Next I saw I’d repeated several narrative devices within the book. There were too many cramped tunnels, too much peering through spy holes. By cutting whole chapters, I was able to keep the dark, oppressive feel of the story, without boring the reader with excessive repetition of these motifs.

The Slow Starters

Finally I looked at the opening of each scene and cut the slow starts. Invariably there was a paragraph or two which did nothing but delay the reader getting to the interesting bits. So they had to go.

So now it feels like I can see the wood for the trees, or rather the rose bush for the branches. I’m happier about the shape of the story. I’m hopeful future edits will see the right branches bud and grow in the right places resulting in a manuscript I can be proud of.

If you have enjoyed this post – you might like to see how I put my methods into practice in my other work by reading SNAP by Lizzie Hexter, available from,,,, iTunes and Kobo.

How to Add Tension to an Opening Scene – Alan Gibbons Reveals All

I can hardly express how happy I am to welcome Alan Gibbons to the blog today. When I read his novel, The Edge, I was really impressed at how the opening scenes give a sense of tense violence, even though there is no overt violent action shown. So when I got the chance to ask Alan to write a guest post, I was thrilled when he revealed how he achieved it. But enough of my babbling. I’ll hand you over to Alan. Continue reading

Making Your Scenes Work Harder

When I started my novel, Cradlesnatch, I estimated it would be around 50,000 words, which is normal for a YA novel. However it’s looking like the finished draft will be more like 90,000 words, which may be too long in the eyes of publishers.

So I put my brain to thinking about how to reduce the length of my manuscript without losing any of the story elements. Continue reading

Eight Rules for Better Action Writing from Nick Cross

Happy New Year to everyone. Here’s hoping 2013 brings us all writing successes and is a time when our dreams will be fulfilled. To kick off the new year here’s a guest post from Nick Cross, who blogs over at Who Ate My Brain.

Eight Rules for Better Action Writing

I’ve always loved action sequences in films. Maybe it’s a boy thing, but I can’t get enough of inventive, kinetic, thrilling scenes that make me feel as if I’m dodging every punch. When I began writing novels, I naturally found myself adding fast-paced set pieces to liven up my plotline. However, I quickly discovered three things: Continue reading

Looking at the Big Picture – Are Your Character Motivations Working?

Sometimes when you’re editing, you can find yourself spending so much time focusing on the line by line detail that you lose track of the big picture. It’s something I’ve had a lot of trouble with writing my second novel, Cradlesnatch, partly because it’s taking so long to get the first draft down on paper. I find I lose track of the story’s inner connections.

I wasn’t sure what to do about the problem. When I’m sitting at the computer all I see is the section of manuscript I’m working on. It felt like I needed to make room in my head to get a grasp of the story as a whole. So I started taking afternoon walks. Continue reading

Cutting Trolls to Size with Katherine Langrish

I’m delighted today to welcome the lovely Katherine Langrish to the blog, who has kindly offered to share some insights about how she tackles the tricky subject of narrative pacing.

Pacing your Narrative: Speeding Up and Going Slow Continue reading

Tricks to Engage your Readers from Janet Foxley

I’m delighted to welcome Janet Foxley to the blog, who has some great tips on getting the most out of your story’s opening lines.


We all know how important the beginning of a book is. If it starts too slowly, the browsing book-buyer will put it back on the shelf; but much worse, as far as would-be published authors are concerned, the weary slush pile reader will stuff it into the stamped addressed envelope enclosed.

Some people advise you to introduce your protagonist and engage the reader’s sympathy for him by the end of the first chapter; others say by the end of the first page; still others say by the end of the first sentence.

So how do you plunge into your story really quickly, without getting bogged down in back story or description? How do you introduce a character the reader is going to care about, and set up a narrative that is going to keep him turning the pages, in just one sentence? Continue reading