Integrated Parts of Story and Removing Stuff You Love

The Horn Book has a fantastic interview with Rebecca Stead about her latest book, Liar & Spy. One part I especially enjoyed:

Roger: So many things worked well not only by being intrinsically interesting, like that taste test Georges’ science class does, which is just fun, but by being integrated parts of the story. Sometimes I’ll see authors throw in – I say throw in, which is disparaging; that’s how it feels to me – but it seems like someone has put his or her own little pet project or idea into a story but really hasn’t made it part of that story. Whereas I feel like you did.

Rebecca: I do believe there’s a great temptation to throw things in, as you put it, that you think are neat, or that you have a very clear, specific memory of and think you could do a good job writing about. What I find is that it’s like a seed you plant. You can try it, and if it will grow and connect with other ideas in the book, and you can see connections that you can actually realize on the page, then you’re allowed to leave it in. But if it just kind of lies there and doesn’t really add up to anything or there’s no chemistry with everything else going on in the book, then you have to take it out. I had a couple of things I tried to force into this book that just lay there.”

I think a lot of writers can related to this, especially at the first conception of a book vs. the final product. Trusted readers tell you that X just isn’t working or they’re not sure why it’s there. You argue. “No!” you say. “This is for real reasons!” But usually it’s just because you love the idea so much, and the story doesn’t really benefit from that extra page count.

The good news is that none of that X you loved needs to go away forever. Maybe it’s not right for this project, but keep it in your back pocket for something else.

3 thoughts on “Integrated Parts of Story and Removing Stuff You Love

  1. timtips says:

    Cutting beloved “stuff” that in the end isn’t needed in my writing is always a tragic exercise. I’ve cut out whole characters before, and I felt like they needed proper funerals.

  2. L. Palmer says:

    I’ve heard a lot of cases where composers for musicals will put aside a song written for one show, and use it later for another. Ideas are so exciting in the moment, but it’s always disheartening to look back and realize you ‘threw it in’. Thank goodness for drafts, and the ability to graft it into other places.

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