Surgery

I worked more on the plot board yesterday night and it made its debut of sorts in my living room/kitchen/dining room when I showed it to my roommate, who was suitably impressed. I was (and remain) hypnotized by the bright colors. One thing I’ve noticed is how the process of assembling the board gets slower and slower as I come in from the edges of the narrative and start getting deep into the meat of it all. Characters start getting bombarded by multiple events and experience several emotions at a time, complicating the story greatly. Also, Part One of the novel is told alternately in the present and a past which also progresses along its own time line; there, it’s the structure that is complicated, which allows the narrative, in contrast, to be a little more straightforward, and it has to be, since there is so much information to impart without completely overwhelming the reader. I’ve just finished adding cues (subtitles labeling the time a scene is occurring and asterisks to separate scenes that take place during the same time period but in a different location or circumstance) to Part One in order to make the flow a lot better and, wouldn’t you know it, in the process I noticed that my time line was off. How embarrassing; I felt like I was caught by a stranger in my underwear. A little piece of advice from the trenches for flashbacks: KNOW YOUR TIME LINE. Especially if you’re easily confused, like me.

Um, so I started this post to talk about trimming the fat–or, as some people call it, killing your darlings (which was, apparently, the title of a film…the things you learn while Googling). This morning, sort of inexplicably, I started worrying about word count, possibly because now that I’m examining the MS with what are apparently new eyes I can see all the characterization I seem to have left out–and it takes a lot for me to admit this, because I feel like characterization is actually the strongest part of the novel. And I was like, “What do I think I can cut?” And then, sadly, I realized that there was a scene that I was attached to, not for its content necessarily, but because it contains the only alternative title this project has ever had, “The Atomic Weight of Iridium,” which I think has a sort of poetic ring to it. You know how the new untitled X-Files movie has a production name of “Done One”, that obviously won’t be the title when it’s released? That’s kind of what “Iridium” was to this project. Anyway, the whole scene can go. It just doesn’t go anywhere–it explores a relationship that the reader is aware of by now, and I don’t think it necessarily deepens it. I think I kept it for so long because it’s a happy scene, and so many of the scenes in the book are unhappy. So I’m going to cut it. It’s nice, but it contributes nothing. Wah.

I have to say, though, if I wasn’t worried about word count at this juncture I’d probably leave it. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with leaving in a scene you love that doesn’t technically contribute anything to the final product; I mean, there is a reason you wrote it, so it must have some value, but you have to exercise discretion. I was just watching My Big Fat Greek Wedding on Wednesday while waiting for America’s Next Top Model  to come on and we were at the part where Toula and Ian start dating and they show you one date with dialogue and flirtiness and what have you and then they show you a couple of very short scenes set to music that imply that they’ve been on many dates by the time the next longer scene happens, so you get a sense that they’re seeing each other regularly but they don’t have to show you every. single. date. to set up for the next scene. We don’t really have an equivalent in novels. I mean, we can say that time has passed, but that’s telling, not showing. And I’m not the fiercest adherent to the “show, don’t tell” policy–there’s a time and place for each, of course–but I do know that saying, “And then it was three weeks later. We’d been on a couple of dates and we really liked each other” is not the same as showing that to people. So scenes like the one I’m cutting kind of do that in a way for us; they repeat an already established characterization or theme but don’t really add much.

On the other hand, when I have scenes that do deepen characterization (such as character introspection on their background, which I want to add) or advance theme to add, I shouldn’t keep a scene I know isn’t doing much for the narrative but that I secretly have an attachment to. It’s just not practical. But I’ll stick it in my Scraps folder and maybe one day use it as website content or something. Get excited.

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