Reader Friday: Are You a Good Cutter?

“When your story is ready for rewrite, cut it to the bone. Get rid of every ounce of excess fat. This is going to hurt; revising a story down to the bare essentials is always a little like murdering children, but it must be done.”
—Stephen King

Are you a good cutter? 

16 thoughts on “Reader Friday: Are You a Good Cutter?

  1. Excellent advice, but hard to follow. I’m getting better at it. My first novel, my editor wanted me to cut a scene, but I loved it and left it in. Later, when I read that novel for a book on tape, I realized my editor was right: That scene interrupted the flow and slowed down the plot.

  2. I *think* I’m pretty good. I know my first drafts tend to be a little self-indulgent, so I try to be merciless on subsequent passes. The only question to ask as you face each passage a second time is not, “Is this good?” but “Does this advance the story?” If the answer is no, it goes overboard, because who needs the excess baggage.

  3. I’ve always admired authors who practice minimalist writing. Not only does this work well with thrillers, mystery, and suspense, but many other genres. Moreover, it allows the reader to participate in the creative process. Through minimal description and dialogue, the reader can develop his own perception of what characters or settings are like. I’ve been surprised many times by how a reader perceives one of my characters, for example. Finally, minimalist writing allows the author to “get on with the story”–that’s what it’s all about.

  4. I’ve joined several short fiction contests and have found that’s a good way to learn to cut. If your entry doesn’t match the word count requirements, it’s not accepted. One of the most challenging I entered was a 150-word contest. I got an honorable mention, so I felt I had done a pretty good job.

  5. I’m usually terrible (keeping all my favourite paragraphs like they were little chicks needing to be kept warm) until someone I trust – like my agent- tells me to start cutting – then I swallow hard and get the job done:)

  6. I’ve become pretty ruthless. I recently took another look at a book that was good enough to get an agent and almost sell about five years ago, and cut almost 3,000 words from it. Just the other week I did a reading of a couple of chapters–about 2800 words–from my book that just came ot and figured I’d cut at least 50, maybe 100, if I were writing it today.

  7. “Yuh gotta be tough. Yuh gotta be strong.” I think that’s how the words went. I just stumbled across a book by Francis Flaherty called The Elements of Story. Can’t pass up a catchy title like that, right? So right in there he’s quoting Strunk and White — “Omit Needless Words” — in his introduction. Now I just read that seconds before checking in this morning. Not kidding. Happy cutting! 🙂

  8. Yes. I subscribe to the King rule of “Final Draft = First Draft – 10%”

    I tend to start my writing day with a light pass over the previous 2 days take. I get the howlers and read it out loud. Sometimes I can get rid of the 10% right then and there. My typical crit comments are to expand, not to contract.

    Makes wordcount a bit rough sometimes . . .


  9. I’m an excellent cutter. For some reason, I can look at what I wrote weeks ago and cut it down to a third just by eliminating crap. Yes, I write crap. If you don’t admit that you write crap, then it’s sad that you are in denial.

  10. It’s difficult to cut, but after reading Stephen King’s book, “On writing”, I cut.

  11. Eee gads, no I’m horrible at it. On the sentence by sentence level, it’s all good. It’s only when I get further out of the story do I have issues.

    Part of it is because I wonder how the other, more long winded writers do it. King himself writes novels that could easy prop open the door to my upstairs porch–and withstand the heavy winds that occasionally knocks it shut–but I don’t think his books are “too” long.

    In some authors’ hands a subplot or entire sequence of scenes feels unnecessary to the primary plot, but other writers have the ability to make these scenes elevate the novel beyond a normal reading experience, and into an extraordinary look into a person’s life.

    The difference, I think it a matter of skill and taste, and as King says, cutting the excess. Kill your darlings.

  12. I often fight this battle in a bottle with a paddle and the bottle’s in my noodle and my poodle in a panic piddles puddles on the ruggles and the words become all muddled, and the misses then insistses that I’m just a fuddie-duddle. It’s the all to common, call yer mom’n, Sunday sermon bit’o learnin’, whirly birdie, should’a heardie answer to the question that’yer askin’.

    I’m a put’m inner, take’m outer, turn-about & shout it outer.

    And there you have it, indubitably.

  13. I have his book, On Writing, and took this advice to heart. I cut 50,000 words out of my first novel, nearly starting over. Was it the right thing to do? Absolutely. I have already cut 30,000 from my second. Necessary? Absolutely. I’ll do whatever it takes to make the story better. Thank you, Stephen King.

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