During the first draft, you tell yourself the story. The next time through, you take out everything that isn’t the story.
I’ve spent the last four days cutting over 17,000 words out of a manuscript. It hasn’t been as difficult as I’d expected. I’d gotten carried away here and there, but I know the story. That makes it easy to spot the lines and paragraphs where I’m wandering.
No matter how clever a line is, or how moving or hilarious a scene might be, or how good (or bad) it might make me look, if it’s not the story–the story I sold–then it’s an obvious cut.
Applied to life, the principle interests me even more.
Are you living the story you imagined? Do you still imagine?
Is it a romance?
It is a tale of horror?
A page turner?
A story of survival?
A plodding tome that nobody would finish?
Rags to riches?
Riches to rags?
A story of recovery?
Are you the hero?
Are you the villain?
First we have to decide what we want our stories to be. Then maybe we can start paring away whatever doesn’t fit.
It takes effort and attention. All good storytelling does.