Editing: Cutting the creation, for a good reason

I’m reading “The Newbies Guide to Publishing”  by Joe Konrath. Really good stuff! For new writers, but also for anyone else who wants to know what happens behind the scenes. Have a look at it, it’s worth it!

What I would like to talk about here is: editing. I’m not doing much of it yet, but it’s something that every writer should do, again and again. The first draft is NEVER good enough for publishing (despite some egotistic opinions of young writers, such as myself :-p).

Joe says one should cut down “all the fat”, all adjectives, adverbs, “said” clones (replied, questioned, yelled..), detailed descriptions, etc.

Generally, I agree with the idea to have your writing lined up to advance your story, not making any detours. If my character hammers a nail into a wall in the beginning of a book, by the end of the book, my character will have hung a painting on that nail.

But what I don’t agree with is to cut down the descriptions.

I’ll give you an example from the book I’m currently writing, a woman and a man are talking to each other.


“He then slides down from the couch, kneels next to me and looks at me from below. He places his warm hand on mine folded on my lap, part of his hand touching my thigh. And all I can focus on now is this small area of contact, where his hand touches my thigh, making my heartbeat race.

–       I’ll protect you until you’re safe again.

And then what? Then you’ll leave? But I keep silent. His eyes move to our hands, his large hand covering both of mine. We don’t talk.

–       When… – I start saying not really sure what I want to say – when we were hiding in your flat…. – I look at him now, his blue eyes moving back to mine… – and you were holding me…. I thought… – I stop, my throat is tight, I can’t talk.  I move my gaze back to our hands.

A few moments pass.

He keeps looking at me, and then he lifts himself up smoothly and walks over to the window, his back to me. I look at him now.

I could look at him forever.  Michelangelo’s David seen from behind.

–       I … – he starts quietly – I can’t be with you. It’s too dangerous. I am not…. I’m not who you think I am… I’m not good for you.

My blood boils, I’m so angry. Haven’t I heard that before!

I quickly stand up and turn to leave”


If I had cut out all the descriptions of how they interact, you would have missed what was going on between them. More then 50% of every-day communication is non-verbal: how you move your head, where do you look, what’s your body pose, where do you keep your hands and so on. If I can convey that, you will know what my characters feel. If I just stick to a dialog, you’ll miss most of it.

Now, after some thinking (and I read this editing chapter few days ago) I realize what the difference is: Joe writes books that are page-turners. Thrillers.

You read them in a day if you can, because you need to know what happens next. You want to read quickly.

But, I don’t want you reading my books in a day. I want you to indulge in them. To read and re-read paragraphs. Because you want to re-live that special moment that my characters just felt.

So, I’m happy with my explanation, because I’m currently fixed on Joe’s Guide, and this particular advice troubled me. If I don’t follow his advice, I need to be confident of the reason.

So what’s your opinion on cutting down the story? If you are a writer, how do you cut down your own creation?


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