cutting dead wood out of your story

I often relate ideas by analogy and while gardening, one came to me. I had to prune a tree this year to get out some dead branches, improve the shape, and rejuvenate it. While trimming, I thought of my novel.

I had loaded it with backstory. Eight and a half chapters worth. It’s great, too. Well-written – not bragging, scads of crit partners helped me so I know it’s all good – and engaging.

But, it is all just backstory. The action didn’t begin until the end of chapter nine. Several writing partners challenged me that I needed to start the story in that chapter. One said if I wanted to be bold, I could start with that last scene where the action starts, and work all that previous information into the rest of the novel. Oooh! Sounds like a challenge!

So I began pruning my novel. Radically. I got rid of the whole thing before the last scene of chapter nine, and worked on tucking tidbits of the backstory into the novel. No infodumping allowed.

The result is a much tighter novel that dropped about 20k words. Do I miss some of those snipped scenes? Sure. But they’re still there, and a few have crept onto my website*, since they’re spoiler-free.

What dead branches might you remove from your novel? Where does the action really start? I challenge you to do some pruning.

* um, not anymore…

originally published in The Sword Review 2005-06-28


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