Have you heard the expression, “kill your darlings,” in reference to editing your work? If you’re a writer, you have.
And you do have to chop them to tiny bits. But instead of just getting rid of parts that don’t further the story, cut them out and put them in a different file. You could end up using them in other stories. Conversations that end up not fitting in? Sex scenes that are fun but really don’t have a place in what ends up being a political thriller? Side stories that show an aspect of the character’s growth, but contribute nothing else to the main plot?
Cut ’em up!
Those little adventures your character went on before the main plot got going? Turn them into their own short stories. This is always good because then the depth of personality you have put into your characters will show in these shorts more so than if you had merely made up someone for a short.
What about that witty exchange your two favorite characters had over breakfast that besides being entertaining just didn’t do a lot? Put it into a later scene where the conversation is relevant to the story or the character development then. That fun sex scene? Put it into a romance or a story with a romance sub-plot, where that scene would be part of the moving story instead of a fun commercial break.
I wrote my first book when I was 19. It was the first in my Order of the Sphinx series. I started writing with a general world and characters in mind, but no overall plot. I just wrote. I ended up with a meandering drunk cat of a plot that was over 300,000 words.
Then the cuts started. I had little adventures and characters doing things that didn’t quite fit who I ended up turning them into, so they got sliced out, but I saved the original version. Now I’m going back over the original after not even opening those files for almost five years and I’m cutting out bits and adventures that could stand on their own with a little explanation of the back story and the world.
Since this was my first book, the writing is soooo not good, but with some editing and rewriting parts and descriptions, they actually could be good little stories. So I’m taking ’em out and knocking them into shape to stand on their own, and shipping them off to contests and magazines.
Who knows, I may get one or two published and end up building up my resume a little more with these previously useless pieces. Go back over your cut stuff, and always keep your old versions and the sections you slice out. You never know when they’ll end up being useful.
Waste not, want not.