Tuesday, January 19, 2010

The Cutting Room Floor


By Martha Reed

There were two hurdles in my latest draft that I was dreading from the onset – an emotional scene between two of my characters (tackling emotion isn’t my strong suit) and a pivotal vehicular accident scene involving precise calculations and quite a bit of math. Math has always been a problem for me – I’m much better using words – and since I’m lazy and most people are kind I can usually con somebody into doing the math for me and just giving me the end result.

But this time it was different and I wanted to do the math for myself. So, I gathered all the pieces of the algebraic formula I imagined I would need (mass, distance, trajectory, speed) and sat down to gut it out. Imagine my surprise when the math evaporated into two tiny paragraphs and the rest of the story continued merrily along as exposition.

It pains me now that all that perfectly good math ended up on the cutting room floor.

Over the weekend I also went back through my notes to make sure my story arc was lining up properly – I’m only forty pages from the finish and I wanted to tie up all the loose ends – and as I was reading through my very early manuscript pages I realized just how far off the mark I had been when I started out and how much the story has mutated to get to the finish line. I have perfectly good whole chapters that I know I slaved over that are now sitting in my deleted bin or in my discard pile. I still find myself hanging on to these pages, though, even though they are mutant creatures because I put so much work into them I can’t simply throw them away. Right now my plan is to keep these pages and chapters in a separate manuscript box in the hope that they may someday shed light on my creative process for some distant future archivist.

Of course, the oddest thing about writing a truly good story is that if you do the job well and really tell the tale so that it comes to life, the last thing that gets shed is the author. Think I’m kidding? Okay, name the author of Treasure Island or The Adventures of Baron Munchasen. See what I mean?


8 comments:

PatRemick said...

I feel your pain, Martha. I save the chapters in case I can use them for the "next book" -- and try not to think about how much time I invested in them....

Robert Louis Stevenson for Treasure Island, but not sure about the other. I'm off to Google...

Martha Reed said...

No cheating! haha. What did we ever do before the Internet? I can't imagine how I would have been able to do my research without internet access at my fingertips.

Oh, brave new world...

Paula Matter said...

Aldous Huxley! Oh. Never mind.

You're right on both counts, Martha. The Internet has made research so much easier. Right at our fingertips. We just have to be careful we go to the right sites.

I'm revising also. I put my cut scenes in my Tossed file. They're always close by if I need them. So far I haven't.

Joyce said...

I have one of those files on my computer, too. So far, I haven't needed anything I cut. Maybe it's time for a "virtual house cleaning."

Martha Reed said...

Hi, Joyce. I love a big purge whether its old clothes or recyclables but I'm always afraid I'll toss a bit of writing that I'll need later. I keep them organized in file folders and it's a hoot to go through them every once in awhile and remember what I was thinking at the time.

Wilfred Bereswill said...

In my first novel, I cut five chapters. In this case about 80 pages of manuscript. I had to have the "story" or concept of those five chapters, so I had to find a way to weave it back into the story. The five chapters were a scene in China during SARS where a major character discovers the Chinese Government is covering up the extent of the virus.

Since I think it would make a good story in its own right, I saved the chapters.

I thought the writing was some of my best because I was in CHina during SARS and I was able to write from experience. But when you get consistent feedback from knowledgeable sources, you have to consider it.

Shortly after I made the changes, it was accepted for publication.

I keep all that extra material on a huge external hard drive.

Patg said...

Granted having to rewrite several pages, or chapters may make you want to save it for future reworking or incorporating, but if you don't go back to it within the month (providing you are working all that time) then I'm for dumping it.
Hey, I'm a collector by nature so I understand the desire to save, save, save, but a computer (or file cabinet) full of file that you never look at can be a major distractor and and overwhelmer that keeps you from getting on with the business at hand.
Dump it!
Patg

Jemi Fraser said...

Cutting is so hard... and so worthwhile! I tend to save all my chapters/scenes when I cut them. Saying goodbye is hard :)