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Revision: Knowing What to Cut #3

Cheryl's Musings: Revision: Knowing What to Cut #3

Cheryl's Musings

How to Thrive on the Writer's Road


Revision: Knowing What to Cut #3

Have you started chopping words from your manuscript yet? If you haven't found any excess adverbs or dialog tags to to cut, try taking a look at your transitions. I think that no matter how far along I get on this writing road, I'll still have to take a conscious look at my transitions to avoid including excess information.

Here's an interesting exercise. Go through a great book (preferably one similar to your own) and write down the first and last lines in every chapter. I did this recently with Hilari Bell's Shield of Stars. Take a look:

  • Ch. 4 ending: "I'm not worried," said Weasel. "If we can defeat both Gabbo and the palace..., the Hidden don't stand a chance."

  • Ch. 5 beginning: "I hate nature," Weasel grumbled, scraping mud off his shoe with a stick.

Chapter 4 ends as the two protagonists optimistically discuss their plan to find a religious group called the Hidden; Chapter 5 begins as the city boy's optimism crashes into muddy reality. Bell skips the intermediate business where the two prepare for their trip, gather supplies, ask directions, head out of town. She doesn't even sum up the intervening time. Instead, she ends Ch. 4 with a catchy bit of dialog and skips to the middle of another scene to begin Ch. 5.

  • Ch. 7 ending: "You won't get caught," Arisa repeated, "because if you get caught, Justice Hollingsworth will hang."

  • Ch. 8 beginning: Weasel gazed at the guardsmen who lounged on the street in front of the warehouse.

Again, Bell ends one chapter with a discussion of what the characters face next--then begins the next chapter in the midst of that challenge. No intervening discussion of plans, how they wait nervously, etc. She cuts out all of the summary, character thoughts, and explanation that I'd be tempted to include here. And it's perfect.

Doing this exercise on a professional's work gives me a better view of my own chapter transitions--and a better idea of what is, and isn't essential. Give it a try!

:) Cheryl

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