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  • Writer's pictureRachel Paige

Move, Don't Delete

Okay, friends, last week we talked about reading your story before you start to revise. Let's say you've done that. I want to talk about an important part of revision before you get in there with your pruning shears and get to work.

Don't delete things. Move them.

Delete them out of the story, absolutely. If it doesn't need to be there, cut it, no matter how much you love it. (More on that here.)

But don't highlight it and hit delete. Highlight and hit cut. Then open a new document and hit paste. Especially on big things. If you're about to cut an entire chapter or scene, please don't zap it from existence. Tomorrow you may realize you made a mistake and need part of that chapter. Or it was more important than you thought it was. Or it needed a little tweaking, not death.

You'll be grateful you still have it.

Do this with little things, too. If you cut a line you loved but know you don't need, save it. Anything you hesitate to delete, save. I have a document for each novel I write full of this stuff.

For Chaos in G Major, that document is over 16,000 words. That's partially because I cut an entire character and subplot, re-wrote it, and cut it all again. For Definitions of Life, that document is almost 7,000 words.

In each of those, I have a section for single lines at the beginning. Some of them describe items in the story, or are nice lines of dialogue. One of them is a description of a character sitting. I liked it.

Some of them have made it into other writing, too. There were a few times when I was working on Definitions of Life that I got stuck and couldn't think how to phrase something. I pulled open the cut content document for Chaos in G Major and a line stood out to me. I tweaked it to fit my needs and used it.

The scenes are sorted chronologically and have headers so I can find them easily. Some of those scenes have found their way back in, too. Or at least parts of them. Sometimes I'll cut a whole chapter, and later realize that the events I cut there fit perfectly into a different chapter. I tweak what I need to and use it.

Some of those scenes have inspired scenes in other projects. I'll be working on a chapter and think "wait, didn't I write something similar to this? And the rhythm of the sentences worked beautifully?" Then I go find that scene, steal it, and change it to fit the new story. I get to keep the cadence I'd worked hard to perfect the first time.

But most of those scenes will never go anywhere, no matter how much I want them to. Trust me, there's a few I've tried valiantly to fit back in. I have a scene for Definitions of Life consisting of a conversation between James and Evie's dad. It's an emotionally-packed scene with seeded references to a past event. It's kind of a flashback, except it's staggered into one sentence pieces throughout the scene. I love it. I think it's one of the best scenes I've written from James' POV. But it was too long and I couldn't force it to fit.

I have a very short scene for Chaos in G Major that was supposed to come right at the end. It's heavy. A "whoa, put down the book for a second" kind of heavy. It would have grown the characters, developed Sam a bit more, and provided an added layer of tension. Plus, It's only about 200 words and I particularly wanted the last 100 of them. But those 100 words wouldn't have been said without a moment of intense anger, and the anger that triggered the scene got cut. I had no way to fit it back in.

So as good as those scenes were and as much as they may have progressed the story or developed the characters, they didn't fit. They had to go. But that doesn't mean I should get rid of them entirely. Maybe they will inspire something else. Maybe they'll just be little snippets I let my friends read. Maybe I'll end up writing more stories in that world and they'll fit that time.

But even if they don't, they're staying in that document. Because even if they never get used in a story, they're good words and I'm happy with them. If nothing else, I can read them to remind myself I am a good writer.

So don't delete your writing. Delete words. Delete stuff that will never work. But any time you hesitate to take something out, do it anyway, but toss it in an extra document. Maybe you'll use it again. Maybe you'll just keep it for yourself. But if you hesitated to delete it, you hesitated for a reason. There's something worthwhile in those words. They just may not ever fit in a story.


Do you have a document of cut scenes? Have you ever used them in another story?

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