Friday, April 15, 2011

Lauri on: Trimming the Fat

This week on the blog I'm sharing the writing advice I received from Lauri Klobas, a friend I will always consider my first editor.

Lauri had a lot to teach me about trimming and tightening unfocused story elements and overwritten prose. I still over-write my first drafts, but through her editing of my historical, Kindred, bleeding bright red all over the screen, I'm able now to go back, after a cooling off period, and the excess wordage screams at me, instead of hiding itself.

Lauri on Tightening/Trimming/Hacking-Burning-Slashing

~ I truly think when you chart out the story on index cards* and see where one thing does not carry to another or closely resembles another chapter, you'll be chopping merrily through. Beta 4 (the version of Kindred she read) felt "loose" to me, not as focused as it could be.
*Using index cards to map out a novel, one card per scene or chapter, was something Lauri recommended to me to be sure all the scenes I'd written were really needed, or to spot places in the story where the pace was lagging, or I had neglected a subplot/character.
~ Don't get dramatic on me here (I must have whined, or threatened to wimp out and give up!). Look, a tree is nice but when it gets all overgrown, it overtakes everything else. Can't see around it, above it, through it... but a good trim and you have a lovely asset to the garden, that's all. And good heavens, don't I know how easy it is to get lost in a story, loving parts and wanting to keep parts... even though those branches are hanging in front of the window and impeding the view. We are too close to our work and it's hard to see it clearly.

~ After reading your blog post, I had a thought. When you go through and do the index card thing, it might be cool to note if the chapter is a Macro or a Micro. Meaning, if it is a big, all-encompassing chapter, you'll know it's a chapter that doesn't require details as deep as does a micro. For example, when Ian and Seona are [spoiler deleted], that's a micro, a small and private place and time. The details percolate through the scene. When Ian is on he road encountering the coffel of slaves, that's a Macro, a bigger scene. It's a place where the big details are described but you don't need the same depth as you would in a Micro.

Does that make any sense? It could be one way that will help you pare down the words because you don't need the ocean of description in every scene. It can be a bit suffocating to the reader-- so many details, sort of like a bell clanging in your head and it's too much, too close. That's the way I felt at the start with all of Ian's wounds. Not to mention, I didn't know him that well... those details worked just fine after [spoiler deleted]. By then, I knew him, I cared about him and what he was doing. He's still too new in the beginning so I would suggest going a bit easier there-- work on story to draw in the reader, rather than detail. It'll help the top of the book be more "taut and muscular," stuff that will capture the attention of an agent.


  1. Wow -- safe advice. I'm a full-blown overwriter! LOL. I'll have to apply this.

  2. Kav, Oh, me too. Still am. But at least I can see it now. I just finished trimming the first 37,000 word chunk of my WIP down to 30,000. Before Lauri got hold of me, I couldn't have done that (it's still hard, and no doubt SHE would have cut even more!). She had a special gift for seeing the forest for the trees.

  3. Wow, Lauri was a gifted editor. I think she'd be so honored to see how you're honoring her this way at this time.

    I still struggle with overwriting though I'm getting more terse as time goes by. Having a word cap at 110k helps (not quite the word I would use - stifles would be more fitting;) I envy those like Thom and Gabaldon whose publishers let them write as long as they like.

    I had dreams of being a YA author. Talk about terse! Now I see that I am not capable of writing a book in 200 pages or so, same for the novella collections. Some do that so well. Not me.

    Thanks for sharing Lauri with us.

  4. I really like the idea of identifying scenes as micro or macro. I create a detailed scenelist with each novel, and this would be a valuable addition. Thanks!

    And overwriting? I always underwrite and have to fill in with sensory details, internal thoughts, and setting details. I wish I could get it right the first go-round!

  5. Laura, Yes, it would really be a dream job, wouldn't it, to be able to write books 150K... 250k! Well, I don't think I'll ever write something THAT long again, but 150K looks pretty perfect to me. :)

    Jill, Lauri's idea about tailoring detail to whether it's a micro or macro scene was a totally new concept to me at the time. I don't think I've run across such advice anywhere else. But for someone like me who always overwrites, it's important to have a lot tricks up the sleeve to deal with the sprawl once it's on the screen. :)

  6. Love Lauri's idea of Macro and Micro chapters. I just slashed through so much filler in the middle bits of my novel. I'd think, 'but I love how I phrased this' and then I'd berate myself, 'kill your darlings! what's the point of lovely description if it doesn't *do* anything?"

  7. Deniz, I'm still cutting out chunks from Kindred, after going over the ms countless times. How it is I didn't see these bits that are just sitting there doing nothing too terribly important sooner? Yes, some of them are "darlings". Those get put in a special file to use some other time, in some other story.

  8. @Lori -- I hadn't realize what an astute editor Lauri was! The whole macro/micro concept is fascinating. When I finish and start back through the manuscript with an eye to cutting, I'll keep that in mind. I don't think I do it so much now, but in the beginning, I used to pile on description _everywhere_. As Diana once remarked, after reading the opening pages at a Blue Pencil session at Surrey: "_Great_ description--and there's too much of it!" At the time I was crestfallen, because I had cut, cut, cut before letting her read that. But she was right.

    @Deniz -- never kill your darlings. Put them in cryostorage until you find another place to use them, or parts of them.

  9. Beth, Lauri rocked my writing world. A good example of how she would edit my writing can be found over at Writer Unboxed, Sunday's post. Another writer who experienced the same sort of friendship/editor relationship that ended in 1/3 of her book being trimmed away posted an example of a sentence as she wrote it, and how her friend edited it. It was like seeing my writing after Lauri had finished with it. You'll have to copy/paste this link:

  10. Great analogy of the tree! My goodness!
    Also, the macro and micro thing. Very good stuff here. Thank you much for sharing, Lori.

  11. Don't worry Beth - I've got a pile of stuff in my drafts folders that would make any pack rat proud [g]