My wife said something to me this past weekend which gave me pause. She said I became too interested in moving the PLOT forward and forgot about the STORY.
I’m not sure I know the difference.
For context, we were discussing my first paranormal piece, still titled Ghost Hunters for the moment. As some of you may recall, last year I went on an editing spree, determined to have the story ready for Halloween so I could think about putting it up on Kindle (since I’m almost ready to give up on traditional publishers in favor of self-publishing eBooks a la Joe Konrath). Well, as I dove into the edits for the first time since 2008, I realized I’d grown a lot since I did them the first time through, and I cut a lot deeper than before. To the bone.
What I ended up with was one half of a book, tight and needing some joining scenes. The rest of it was a loose collection of usable scenes, but as they are now, they’re disembodied from the story. I need more than joining scenes to rescue them. I need entire sections of the book re-done. I therefore have two halves of a book. The back half, which it became clear was written strictly in the device of an online serial, didn’t survive the editing process at all.
My wife mentioned the book to me on Sunday. We were discussing whether I’d recovered them from my failed hard drive a few months ago. I told her I had both the final edits – or the bits and parts left over – and the edits which came just prior (much more like copy edits, to be honest, and not very good ones at that).
She told me she felt I went too far. One of the more popular characters (not the apparently unlikable protagonist though) didn’t seem to survive the edits with his vitality and humor intact. I cleaned up his dialog, removed some of his stupidity and thought I made him a less ridiculous character. It appears, however, my loving spouse disagrees. She feels I killed the character and the humor and charm that endeared him to the few readers who followed along.
I argued I’d improved the story. She argued I’d moved the plot forward, but at the expense of the story. Because I cut all the needless scenes, which didn’t contribute to the story, and because I’d cut down the banter and witty repartee they shared with each other, the character toned down so far I could probably do away with him entirely.
Is there a difference between story and plot? What is the difference? Where’s the line?
I never intended to cut the life out of the story, but as a writer, I have to be sure every word, every paragraph, contributes to the story and the progression. If there’s a part which doesn’t seem to do that, no matter how fond we are of it, it has to be cut out. That’s the saying, right? “Cut your darlings.” Well, I did. I cut the living dog crap out of it. And guess what? It died.
How can you know when too much is too much? How does a writer know when leaving something apparently useless in will forward the story in the long run? How do you clean up a character’s part in a storyline without removing the things which make the character who it is, the very things which brought it to life?
I thought I was good at this, but apparently, I still have a long, long way to go before I can say I’m good at fiction. (I think non-fiction’s a lot easier at this point. Hm. Maybe I should give up and just stick to that?)
What do you writers think? How can you tell? How can you know when it should stay, when it should go, and when spurious is really spurious?
Sound off and let me know. I’m listenin’.
Copyright 2011 DarcKnyt, All rights reserved