The Mark Blog

CUTTING AND CRINGING AND CUTTING

I have been cutting a lot from the stories in my collection. I feel the need to trim the stories to make them tighter. In my mid-project review notes, advisor Rob Roberge encouraged me to cut 10-12 pages from a forty-page story. He said, “Trying to cut 20-25% is a great exercise in editing.” I’ve been experimenting with this challenge. The result is that the writing is getting tighter. However, the original parts aren’t a waste.

The deleted parts helped me understand the characters. As a result, these characters are more complete. In A Moveable Feast, Hemingway wrote “This was omitted on my new theory that you could omit anything if you knew that you omitted and the omitted part would strengthen the story and make people feel something more than they understood.”

This cutting is also motivated by a desire to make the voice of the story more consistent. In early drafts it’s easy to insert a phrase or sentence that isn’t truly the character or narrator speaking but the writer. I’ve been analyzing stories. I’ve heard writers say that it helps to put a story aside for a couple of weeks or a month before revising. I find the time off from a piece helps in the long run. I have fresh eyes when coming back to it. During these rereadings I have read parts that I just flat out don’t like anymore. Parts that don’t even seem to match up with the rest of the story. When I read sentences that make me cringe, I know they need to be cut.

Sometimes I comb through a story for a specific purpose. In the first stories I wrote for the collection I tended to throw out exclamation points. I’m now getting rid of exclamation points. Instructor Antoine Wilson quoted his former writing teacher Frank Conroy as saying you get one per story. And as F. Scott Fitzgerald said, “An exclamation point is like laughing at your own joke.”

Revision is an ongoing process. I was interested in what Jerome Stern had to say about revision in Making Shapely Fiction. He said that “A story grows with each draft, finding itself, developing its textures, and eliminating what’s extraneous. Revision is integral to the creative process. It is the work’s discovery of itself.” That’s the beautiful part about the process. With each draft we have a chance to reassess, reflect, and attempt, in our flawed, human way, to bring the character’s story to life.