Tuesday, July 17, 2007

In Service to Plot

I just cut twelve pages from my manuscript. It hurt.

But I read the scene with my revision cap on, and, frankly, nothing happened. I’d had my heroine, Garnet, have this long extended discussion with the owner of the store she manages about the possibility of Garnet buying him out. It’s kind of a good character moment for her, because it’s one of the ways in which she’s accepting that Madison is her new home and that she’s planning on settling there permanently. However, this twelve pages discussion of financing options comes in the middle of some pretty high tension moments, including a murder attempt. I realized, re-reading it, that it grinds the pacing to a halt.

Now, I’m not advocating always having break-neck pacing -- rushing from one cliff-hanger/action point to the next until the final exhaustive battle. That works for some kinds of books, but, as a reader, I tend to need moments to process. Especially in the kind of novel that I’m trying to pull off with Romancing the Dead, where there’s a lot going on (and some of it is a bit mysterious – who *IS* trying to kill our heroine and why), the protagonist and the reader need quiet, reflective moments to consider all the possibilities. Those quieter moments are, in point of fact, vital.

Which is why distracting the reader with something kind of gratuitous in middle of all this more interesting and important stuff is such a bad idea. I want a slowing down moment, not a speed bump.

Kelly and I are very different writers in terms of process and product, but I know, having been on panels with him about this very subject, that he’s likely to agree. It’s all in service to plot. If the scene doesn’t advance the plot in some way, it has to go.

Now, back to the text forests with my machete.


Kelly McCullough said...

Oh, I definitely agree on that one, if it doesn't serve the plot it goes. Very painful at times.

I will note that sometimes what might look like a character moment to the reader also advances the plot, either by showing the reader something important about the way the character is thinking about things that involve the plot and will impact important decisions, or by giving the reader important plot information that is disguised to look like something else--perhaps by having something happen in the background of the scene.

But that's not a point of disagreement, just an expansion of the point that I think Tate will also agree with.

Anonymous said...

Tate, you're right on both counts. That was a good scene with a nice character building dynamic... and it was in the wrong spot. I was invested in Garnet acquiring the shop, but kept wondering why she didn't try to postpone the meeting under the circumstances. It did slow the pacing down.

I hate cutting, but I'm almost always happier with the story afterwards. I suppose pruning is an accurate analogy. Sure, you're killing a few bits here and there, but done properly, the whole tree looks better and is healthier afterward.