Cutting off an Arm

What do you do when you wake up at 4am and it doesn’t look like you’re going back to sleep for a long time? You blog about it of course. Never fail to turn a sleepless night into a writing opportunity, folks. It’s great for your word count.

On a more serious note, a lot of the work I’ve been doing lately has been centered around editing and revision, a necessary, though sometimes brutal, part of any writer’s process. Specifically, I would like to give a little insight into the part of the process I like to call, “cutting off arms” or “scene destruction.” This can be the most heart wrenching, down right depressing thing in the world, axing scenes that you just love, but axing them because the only purpose they have is author self indulgence and taking up space. Sometimes, word count can be a bitch, and there’s nothing left to do but close your eyes and press that delete button.
NO NO NO, don’t delete those scenes. Cut and paste them and save them in a crap file. You may need them later!
Okay, you may not, but you spent a lot of time and energy writing those things. You may as well not send them into oblivion.
In my novel, To Love a Beast by Teri Butterfly Harvey now available on Smashwords, one of the most difficult decisions I had to make involved cutting the prologue and chapter one. Of course, I thought the prologue was wonderful! I was going to do some creative fun things with it. It had action in it. It did take place in the future, making the whole rest of the story a flashback (a lot of people told me this was bad.) Chapter one was a happy time before the plot took a turn for the worst. It contained a lot of back story, and a lot of it was just me telling who the characters were and why they were where they were. It also involved the “Oh no, don’t go out there” scene where my heroine actually get’s kidnapped. You see this scene a lot in kidnapping scenarios, and it gets more painful to read every time (and not in a good way). The bubble headed heroine mindlessly wonders out into the gardens like a big dope obviously knowing she shouldn’t be out there, and then snatchy snatchy…stupid idiot face. Well, I eliminated that whole side of it by cutting off the arm. It hurt like Hell, but damn it, I don’t think I needed it, and my story is better off for it. My story starts off in the kidnappers bedchambers right in the middle of the uh…action.
Another aspect I want to mention about cutting an arm off of your novel, I noticed, is that however much you loved that arm, once its gone, no one who reads your book will ever know the difference. It may have left a giant hole in my heart to chop the prologue and chapter one, but the only people who realized this occurred are the people reading this blog right now…and it’s our little secret right?
One of my favorite instances of this comes phenomenon is in one of my favorite movies of all time “Terminator 2 Judgement day.” YES, that is in fact my favorite movie. It kicked ass, and kicked ass, and kicked some more ass, but James Cameron had to cut off a few arms of this masterpiece, many of which appear in the extras part of the T2 DVD set. (Yes, I watch all the extras and all the director’s cuts of every movie and t.v. show I watch. What of it?) This cut scene takes place in the mental institution with Sara Connor. We are familiar with the scene when Sara dreams of a fiery judgement day where the bodies of the people in the park explode like burning tissue paper. The cut scene is another dream Sara has in the mental institution when she dreams of Kyle Reece coming to her and telling her to be strong for their son. It actually prompts her to start trying to escape and save him. The scene was really powerful to me, and it brought the movie to a whole new level. (I can’t believe they would get Michael Biehn to come in and do a cameo and then axe the scene!) Anyway, for those of you who never saw that scene, you never missed it. James Cameron even said that he didn’t mind cutting it from the full length release, but I could see the pain in his eyes.
So, even though it feels like you’re ripping your heart out and slamming it down on the table when you cut scenes, it is important to remember that you’re readers my not even notice.
Have a great Monday!

Trackbacks & Pingbacks


  1. How true how true how true… I hope the arm has begun to heal? *khrys…

    | Reply Posted 8 years, 4 months ago
  2. * robincoyle says:

    Hey there! Thanks for stopping by my blog. I wanted to say hello and see what you are all about. Ah – a fellow writer!

    | Reply Posted 8 years, 4 months ago
  3. BFZ: ah, he 4-o’clock muse–where would be without such inspiration? RT

    | Reply Posted 8 years, 4 months ago

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: