What’s the biggest thing you ever cut from a manuscript?

In honor of leap day, today’s theme is leaping. As in, leaping over awkward plot points to get to the heart of the story. During the editing process, writers cut all number of things: useless characters, random sub plots, flowery but unnecessary description, adverbs, etc. So, I put this question to you:

What’s the biggest thing you ever cut from a manuscript?

For Imminent Danger, the biggest thing I can remember is the “descent to Alpha Centauri Prime” scene. Originally, the galactic hub planet was surrounded by a minefield–the remnants of an old space battle. So ships had to line up to be guided through the mines. Varrin, being Varrin, decided to skip that whole tedious process and tackle the minefield himself, resulting in a 1000 word action sequence where Varrin pilots the Nonconformity down through the mines, and Eris and Miguri panic a lot.

When I sat down to chop 20k words off the story, that was one of the first scenes to go. It was fun, but ultimately didn’t need to be in there. Plus, as my brother pointed out, it kind of didn’t make sense that one of the biggest trade hubs in the galaxy was surrounded by mines that no one had bothered to clear out yet. So the action sequence was scrapped, and the descent to Alpha Centauri Prime was cut down to a paragraph.

For Chasing Nonconformity … hoo boy. With Imminent Danger, I did a lot of revising, but the basic structure of the book remained the same. But with the sequel, I pretty much re-wrote it from the ground up. So almost everything got cut and then rewritten–with the exception of Trystan, Sebara, and Fino’jin, who were in the story from day one.

So I can’t really pin down the biggest cut, but certainly one of the large ones was Bax. Bax was a shapeshifting bounty hunter who Fino’jin hired to help track down and capture Varrin. During the original climax of the book, Bax shapeshifted into a jsgarn (big angry monster) and nearly killed Sebara. She did eventually defeat him, although she then had to jump out of the low-flying spaceship they were in at the time (I don’t remember why) and then broke like half the bones in her body upon hitting the ground.

In the re-write, Eris and Varrin’s plotline completely changed, and Bax didn’t work with the new story so he was axed. I don’t regret that one at all–he was mildly interesting, but definitely not a stand-out character. I wrote him as sort of a “blank slate”, in that he didn’t exhibit much personality at all because he shifted forms so frequently that even he didn’t really know who he was. But there wasn’t enough room in the story to explore his character properly, so instead of trying to shoehorn him in, I just cut him.

So, all you writers out there, what’s the biggest cut you’ve ever made? Or the most memorable? Or the cut that absolutely destroyed you, because you loved that particular scene/character and hated yourself for having to leave them out?

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Categories: My Works, Writing | Tags: , , , | 16 Comments

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16 thoughts on “What’s the biggest thing you ever cut from a manuscript?

  1. Kylie Betzner

    Hmm … The biggest thing I’ve ever cut, after two major supporting characters, was magic. I cut all magical elements from an Arthurian parody. It changed the entire novel.

    • Wow. Yeah, removing magic would definitely change the book, lol. That must have been a MAJOR edit right there. I’m getting nervous just thinking about it, lol.

      • Kylie Betzner

        Haha! It was a major edit. It changed the whole second half, the conflict, and removed two characters. It was intense.

  2. I cut a proposal once. It was very nice, but came at the beginning before the actual love interest was introduced. (and the guy doing the proposing turned out to be a real jerk in the next book, so I’m glad he lost that sympathetic moment).

    My editor has a habit of making me re-write climax scenes. It’s a lot of tear-inducing work, but always worth it.

    • Did you cut the proposal before or after you wrote the next book? Because there were a few times in Imminent Danger where I went back and changed something as a result of what I was writing for the sequel. Also, props to your editor! Editors know best, even if we don’t always want to admit that, lol.

      • I changed it before it went for editing. I knew the first act was too long, so that had to go. That whole subplot got streamlined. It was only after drafting book two that I realized what a good idea it was… but maybe the cutting left room for that to go in the direction it did.

        And yeah, my editor is pretty smart. I don’t take all of his suggestions, but I’ve done a lot of hard work when I agreed with him!

  3. I cut out a character’s death. It turns out their story wasn’t done yet.

  4. Cutting has never been a big issue for me, but killing off a character that is gut wrenching. I did cut out the entire opening for my first novel. It worked better as a short story instead of part of a novel.

    • I have yet to kill off a character I love, but I can only imagine how much it’s going to hurt when it eventually happens. For the opening you cut — did you figure out you needed to cut it while writing the first draft, or later during editing? I feel like that’s the sort of thing you figure out once the whole thing’s written and you can look back at the big picture.

      • It was actually after lots of rejections and I think a brief self publishing experience. It dealt with a nightmare the lead was having, kind of an opening fake out, but it slowed down the action. The story just started too late. Seems to work better now. I’ll see if the cut works once I shop it around again.

  5. Sex. Sex, sex, sex, sex, sex. I’m repeating, shaking my head, as the love scene between Parad and Gella in my first book was initially 4 pages long. It got cut down to a single sentence, once I decided to go PG-13 🙂

  6. I don’t know if this counts as a cut, so much as a re-edit, but my debut novel was originally in Third Person POV. After enjoying Robin Hobb’s Assassin series (all in first-person) I made the difficult decision to change the entire MS (180k) to first person.
    Yeah, I know.
    The cuts came after that. I chopped off the entire 15k ending and had the climax take place in a previous chapter. Also, the protagonists’s supervisor, who made her life hell was written out and his (not so nasty) lines were given to the supervisor’s boss instead.
    Does that count? 🙂
    Footnote: Years later, I met Robin Hobb and thanked her for inspiring the changes to my first novel. She seemed quite pleased.

    • Changing the entire POV … yeah, that counts as a big cut! Anything that involves re-writing the entire book is a pretty major thing, lol. Also, it’s so cool that you were actually able to meet the person who inspired you!

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