As I edit my first attempt at a novel, I am beginning to realise the importance of not being precious about my work. Today, as I read ten pages of one character’s story, I used my red pen to slash out an entire page. Originally those words had a purpose, but in the development of the overall plot they had become obsolete – so, off they went.
I removed what I had thought would be a defining feature of my antagonist – Madeline – by deciding that the tattoo she got when she was sixteen, of a pencil stub (the first lost item she ‘rescued’) was a step too far and didn’t really add anything to her persona. It’s enough that she collects lost items, she needn’t inscribe this onto her body. Besides, excepting the scene when her teenage boyfriend meets her, it never gets mentioned again. Not a good reason to keep it in the manuscript.
I’ve also cut lots of sections where I appear to repeat information already established. For example, my character begins his story by stating that he was nineteen and Madeline only seventeen (originally she was just sixteen – another change I’ve made). To then allow them to have a conversation regarding how old they are seems trite and dull – even if it does demonstrate an air of flirting: best to do that in another way that reveals something different about my characters other than their age.
I’ve also noted lots of other little things that could be considered bothersome. How easily Madeline converses with other, older females does not sit well with the enigmatic loner that I profess her to be. Why I skirted over six months of their relationship in just two paragraphs. Which summarised conversations actually need to be dialogue to highlight the place they deserve. Little things, but key details in the grand scheme of things.
As a writer it’s not easy to pull your own work apart, to admit to the mistakes and terrible oversights. But, as an editor it’s rewarding to find the solutions to these blunders and tighten up the writing so that it does tell the most significant story. All of these aspects of my novel that I’m cutting, rewriting and switching around will be saved to a new draft – so that the original still stands as it was. Perhaps one day I’ll be able to go back to the original version and shake my head at the naivete and rawness of the writing there and be satisfied that I did challenge those words, that I was able to be critical of my work and pull it all together into something more cohesive and valuable.
Until then, I always have the original to go back to – in case I ever change my mind.