When I sat at my computer, staring at my manuscript for the umpteenth time, there was a part that would still hold me up every time I’d read it. It was in the first couple chapters and it slowed down the flow of the story to little more than a crawl. I had to find a way to jump my readers into the story so they’d make it past those first pages, or I’d lose them right at the start.
My book, Adeline and the Mystic Berries, is a Middle Grade Fantasy story, so there needed to be some world-building involved (see post on Overshooting Your Word Count) to be sure, but the chapters were still dragging.
I know when I read books, if I can’t get into them I give the book about fifty pages before putting it to the side. For kids, I can imagine their attention span may not even make it to page fifty, unless the story and its characters grab them.
Knowing that the book picks up as you go, I had to do something to get the ball rolling in the beginning. I noticed that the main character was mentioned only briefly in the first chapter. The rest was setting the stage for the story. The second chapter didn’t have her at all, and then she came back in Chapter 3 and continued through the rest of the book.
How had I not kept Adeline at the forefront? This is what editing is for (see my post on Editing). I needed to jump the reader into something happening.
I looked at the chapters before me and broke them down into their most basic elements: what point was I trying to get across to the readers? Could I eliminate some background information on any of the other characters or rework it in a more interesting way?
Saving a new draft, I didn’t fear deleting my words, because they were left untouched in my prior draft. I changed the dynamic of the scene. I rewrote two chapters into one and kept only the key points from them in a way that felt faster-paced as a reader. This story was about Adeline, so she needed to be in the entire chapter at the forefront. Her parents, who had previously occupied Chapter Two, were still in the new Chapter One, but they became side characters as they were meant to be.
You got to learn more about Adeline and the world she lives in, along with the significance of how her world affects its inhabitants. As a reader, I was giving you the same information you would have gotten in the prior draft, only, I wasn’t hitting you over the head with it anymore. It became more subtle, and by the end, I had a Chapter One I was pleased with.
I know I’ve quoted him before, but William Falkner’s words are worth another mention, “In writing, you must kill all your darlings.”
I’d cut out an entire chapter, but I was okay with that. Sometimes we need to cut out scenes we love to keep the reader’s focus on what’s really important to the story. My story was finished, and this time, I felt ready to send out query letters (see post on Query Writing) to find the right people to work with in getting it toward publication.
Have you ever had to cross out entire sections of a story that killed you to get rid of? Why did you feel you needed to remove them?