Writing Tip #6: Editing for Story Economy

The majority of films that come out on Blu-ray or DVD include deleted scenes that obviously were cut out of the final film.  Most of the time when you watch these scenes, you immediately can see why they were left out. Maybe they offered up redundant information.  Maybe they didn’t move the story forward.  Maybe the tone of the scene didn’t fit with the rest of the film’s narrative structure. 

When it comes to writing a novel, a screenplay, or any other narrative, story economy is a key part of the editing process.  To me, story economy is essentially cutting out any chapters, sequences, or moments that don’t a) move the story forward, b) tell the reader something of value they need to know for later, c) tie directly into the main narrative, or d) throw off the story’s pacing.

It’s important as a writer to put everything out on the page during your rough drafts and even multiple drafts after that.  But then really start to dig deeper into the story you have created and what you have presented on the page.  Is everything you wrote important and vital to telling this particular story? 

Probably not.

Look, I understand 100% that your novel, your script, or your play are like a delicate flower to you. You want to nourish it, help it grow, make it into something that is loved and cherished by you and others.  But in order for that flower to grow, the weeds around it have got to go!

I went through this process when writing my novel, The Field.  In fact, I cut a lot of weeds out when I got into hardcore editing for the sake of the story.  It didn’t matter if I loved the chapter, if I felt the chapter was well-written or creatively compelling.  If it didn’t do one of the four criteria I mentioned above, it was gone.

Story economy helps keep readers engaged by ensuring the pacing of the main story keeps building momentum.  It’s okay to break away from the main plot, as long as the secondary story – or B-story – ties in with the main narrative in some way over the course of the narrative. The last thing you need is for a reader to start asking “Is there a point to this storyline?” as they are reading your book or script.

So, as you begin to read through and fine tune your manuscript, ask yourself:

  • Does this chapter or scene move the story forward?
  • Does this chapter or scene tell the reader something of value they need to know for later?
  • Does this chapter or scene tie directly into the main narrative?
  • Does this chapter or scene throw off the story’s pacing?

By doing this you can help tighten your story and bring the main conflict and key elements into focus for both yourself and your readers.