This time, however, I’m delighted to see paragraphs scored through, sometimes entire scenes. I’m not saying that I agree 100% with my editor’s suggestions, but I do welcome the prospect of cuts. Given that I’d pared the prose down as much as I could before submitting, and a bit more on signing the contract, I am a little surprised that I’m so sanguine about additional extractions. I can’t believe it’s because, after so many years of writing, I’ve achieved a Zen-like state of acceptance; so what else could be going on?
I think these conditions combine to contradict the unconscious assumption – and it has to be unconscious, because who among us would admit to such deep vulnerability? – that the invitation to cut means the writing is crap. In fact, when you think about it, it’s actually the reverse: an indication that the passages around it are strong enough without the scaffolding to keep it up.
Emma Darwin wrote recently about the need to dismantle the scaffolding we use to get from one scene to another. I think I’ve learnt to avoid showing how a character moves physically between scenes, but I might fail to recognise some of the psychological manoeuvrings as mere scaffolding. I’ve also noticed that, because I want to illustrate the continuity of ideas and themes across the novel, I’ve thrown in too many reminders of previous scenes. But I’m happy to let these go and allow the reader to pick these up for themselves, or not, depending upon their own unique reading of the novel.
For Charli’s flash fiction challenge to write a 99-word story on what happens at 2 a.m., I’ve played with the theme of my debut novel and cuts:
I crouch on the stairs, hunched over my laptop. My fingers fly across the keys, pausing intermittently to press the Stanley knife to my arm.
The scene refused to let me sleep. At two a.m., I got up and made coffee.
The blade glints, reflecting the streetlight. I picture a ruby spot cloning itself over and over, beads on a rosary spreading out to form a line. I imagine the brassy taste, the searing pain.
An owl hoots. I click save and shut down my computer. My sleeve is smeared with blood. In the real world, I call 999.
I confirm, for the fainthearted, that no limbs were harmed in writing this story, and I value my sleep too much to get up in the night to write. But I clearly remember sitting with a Stanley knife beside me when I wrote my self-harm scene. And there has been occasion when my characters have got too real. How about you?