Eating with the Wrong Fork

In working on the next book, I’m looking over what amounts to the Unedited Cut of Reswyt, and it’s a weird sensation.

The UC is a 440-page book (Reswyt ended up around 380), roughly 25 pages of which are getting repurposed into the second book – thus, the literary cave expedition. The other 35 pages? Unnecessary. While some ideas just needed to be moved into the next stage of the story, others wandered into twisty little plot passages [ALL ALIKE] and required creative euthanization. But above and beyond what ended up as usable, there’s the merely interesting; subplots that vanished from the final, scenes that need to be ‘reshot’ for the second book,  a minor character or two that exited, all in order to get down to around 115,000 words. They weren’t vital, but they were engaging.

DELETE is a serious key, even with the existence of Ctrl-Z. So I saved every cut scene; I couldn’t fathom writing them but not keeping them, so they live on in a Word file merely entitled RESWYT DELETED SCENE INVENTORY. And, apparently, as I’ve shared that concept with Serious Literary Authors, I’ve learned that something like the RDSI is simply not done in writing circles; I have been caught eating with the wrong fork. Specifically, I’ve been told that what I’m doing is not editing, because I should cut what’s extraneous and keep only what’s meaningful. Anything that does not serve the almighty plot should be disintegrated utterly, leaving no trace of its aberrant, teratoid existence.

Define ‘extraneous’ in a literary sense. Were those scenes necessary? Mostly, no, to be honest. They didn’t advance the plot, the crucial anvil on which all prose is tested, and as a result, they got removed from the finished product. The universal New York Times objective of ‘taut, muscular prose’ got served, at some level. Job done, from a strict editorial perspective; those scenes were removed. But do they merit deletion? In reading over them, I miss them a little. Sabine tried out for the Cameron swim team in the UC; there’s a version that ended well for her, and, in brackets, a version that didn’t. There’s another exchange with her mom on this page, and on that one, a long phone call with Marcus. Josh began differently; the Queen had a mwahahaha scene or two that underserved the storyline, but are great fun to re-read.  There’s a subplot surrounding dark energy that was pulling the book a little too far in the Stargate direction, so it got cut, but it’s amusing to see Brummbar and Sabine discussing astrophysics for a few pages. That led directly to a mystery-resolution scene that got eliminated, too; Reswyt ended very differently when it was still there.

In a strange, metaphysical way, I’m glad I wrote some of those scenes; because of them, I know Sabine fractionally better than anyone else does. She’s confided secrets to me in the RDSI that will never be known. They’re not important secrets, but they’re secrets nonetheless. How many of the secrets we know about our friends are truly important? How many are just colorful? During what proportion of our own days do we truly Advance The Plots of our own lives?

There are millions of feet of film sitting in chilly, darkened Hollywood studio vaults, remnants of movies shot and left out of the final product. Han stepped on Jabba’s tail in one of those reels; it was brought back to life, Harrison Ford simply dropping in from another era to perform once again. In another length of never-seen footage, Halloran undergoes a much more gruesome death in The Shining; that one remains comfortably ensconced in its vault, and Scatman Crothers gets his quick, merciful death in every viewing. What separates the two? There are millions of hours of audio tape and DATs sitting in record company vaults, outtakes and unreleased B-sides, orchestras tuning up and musicians noodling riffs. The Hendrix estate has forged itself a cottage industry from remixing half-finished tracks of Jimi’s, spackling musical cracks where appropriate, and putting forth ‘new‘ Hendrix.

But writers, for some reason, are expected to lose their underperforming draft elements completely; I have never once seen, posted in a freeware PDF, the Lost Scenes of ___________.  It’s simply not done. It’s strange. I don’t have any commercial aspirations for the deleted scenes in Reswyt; as I said, many were dead ends in the plot, or needlessly embroidered a point, or simply didn’t punch their weight on the page. But I did create them, and their long-term storage in a Word file is cheap and reliable.

It’s chilly down there in the RDSI, and I hope the secrets are sleeping well. Meanwhile, I’ll be in the dining room, eating shrimp with my trident.

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2 thoughts on “Eating with the Wrong Fork

  1. Javan Carson says:

    Time will tell whether or not she has commercial aspirations for her literary outtakes and deleted scenes (Pottermore?), but I think you’re in good company on this one:

    Ms. Rowling has always said the series would end with “Deathly Hallows.” But years of back-and-forth correspondence with her, Mr. Kloves said, have revealed that the material in the books is just “the barest surface of what she knows about that world.”

    “If you can get her to talk about it, it’s so remarkable what she knows,” he said. “I once e-mailed her and asked her what were the 12 uses of dragon’s blood” — information that is taught to Hogwarts students — “and she wrote back in 30 seconds what they all were. If I ask about Ron’s uncle, I get back five pages about Ron’s uncle, who never appears in the books.”

    “I can’t tell you how great this stuff is,” he added. “It’s almost a crime for it not to be published.”

    Don’t let Ruprecht the Monkey Boy eat all the shrimp. I’m sure your trident is bigger than his.

  2. dwmayer says:

    She’s certainly Candidate One to go into the vaults and release some of this stuff, and I think everyone hopes Pottermore becomes a medium for that (and not just the universally-feared heap of fanfic/slashfic. Frank Herbert’s vault has come to life through the books his son has released (with mixed results); you could argue that George Martin shrugs and leaves his deleted scenes in. That’s not an editorial jab; I think Martin genuinely believes every single scene adds to his vision, and I think that’s great.

    I suppose this post got started because I began asking other writers what they did with the material they wrote that never made it into the final product, and they’d almost universally look at me with a quizzical expression and inform me that they pressed DELETE. I got to wondering whether other media preserve this content because the medium itself is more expensive (it costs money to shoot film/record audio), or because of some philosophical bent toward creation, consideration, and deletion/retention. I still can’t answer that definitively. The general stance seems to be that ‘it wasn’t good enough for this book; why would it ever be good for another one?’ Whereas I didn’t maintain the RDSI out of any sense of commercial content management; it was more akin to keeping hold of cards and letters from old friends.

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