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 Amazon.co.uk, Amazon.com, Amazon.ca, Amazon.com.au, iTunes and Kobo.