Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Spring Cleaning Your Novel

I don't know if there's any truth to that whole spring cleaning frenzy people seem to enter when the days turn longer and warmer (it's certainly never affected me before) but the last couple of weeks I've really felt the urge to clean house. It's not just the basic laundry and vacuuming but I'm talking clean out the van, organize clothes, eliminate unnecessary 'stuff', even cleaning out old messages on my cell phone (and I hardly ever do that!). Just an overall less is more attitude has pervaded my consciousness. I've even pulled back from the little social networking I do attempt and, instead of logging on at night, I'm reading more, being more 'present' rather than distracted by endless web-searching for useless tidbits of information that clutter your brain and trying to live more in the moment. As for my writing, even though I haven't 'quite' finished my wip (but the end is in sight people! Yes it is!) I'm already thinking about how I can 'purge' some unnecessary 'stuff' in it.

Usually, my first drafts are lean - meaning after revision I end up with a few thousand more words because I add in more description, layer in more meaning, add a scene that deepens characterization, etc. But for this wip I'm now approaching the 65,000 word mark. My goal is to hit no more than 70,000 words. With what I know I still have left to write, I may inch over that mark. I also know that there are a couple of short scenes that I need to add in as a sub-plot. I may be heading into 75,000 words at that point. This is not a huge problem but it is heading towards the upper range for contempory YA. But then my wip is a fairy-tale inspired YA so maybe I have a bit more wiggle room because it's not exactly a contemporary - but it's not exactly a fantasy either and not exactly a paranormal. Yeah. I like to make my life difficult. :) Regardless, I really do not want to make this longer than 70,000-75,000 words. So, I know will have to purge.

I know that most of the purging will be done in the first half of the book. It took me awhile to get to the end of this wip and I took a few detours along the way that either have to be trimmed or cut altogether. A couple of secondary characters didn't pan into much by the end of the book so I'll have to lesson their importance at the beginning while beefing up the presence or changing some motivations for some others. There's always the little things that add up and are an easy clean: unnecessary words like 'that' and 'seemed'. Too many dialogue tags or repetition of information. Scenes that are 'filler' - don't progress the plot or deepen characterization. Combining scenes where one can do both of these things. Like any good spring cleaning, I know things have to get messier before they get cleaner so I really hope all my moving around and throwing things out won't end up making the wip messier than it is right now. But the urge to purge is still strong in me. I have a vision of a more organized, well-put together story that hopefully will appear seamless to a reader. Like the result of any good cleaning, when you enter a room you may not notice all the details like the plumped up pillows or dust-free tables but you will sense a peacefulness - a sense of zen - that allows you to enjoy the room as a whole. A good book should be the same - don't let clutter destroy what is essentially a really good story.

So, are any of you spring cleaning your novels? Any tips you can share to help clear away the mess?


  1. I like to tackle it scene by scene, thinking of each scene as sort of a mini story, with a beginning, middle, and end—some sort of arc. Of course with cliff-hangers, the idea of resolution at the ending is a little different, but still, if there's no mini story going on, then that scene either doesn't need to be there or it needs some work. Looking at it this way helps me to spot the redundancies and the extra clutter that you mentioned within each scene, too.

    Happy spring cleaning!

  2. Hi rh! That's a fabulous way to approach it! Thanks for sharing!

  3. I'm spring cleaning one of my wips. I'm shifting scenes and making sure each chapter has a beginning, middle, and end with a hooky ending. I'm also looking into cutting 5,000 words.

  4. Hi Medeia: I think hooky endings are absolutely essential to keep a reader, well, hooked. Good luck with the cleaning - especially getting rid of the 5,000 words!