No, it’s not about torturing your characters. (Although that’s fun, too.)
I have a story, and I keep adding new scenes to it. It’s currently around 5,000 words long, with the potential to grow further. The two new scenes are good. Really good. I love those scenes. I love the way they’re written a bit differently to one another. I love Paul’s utter devastation, and Julia’s enduring anger. I love the background that these scenes fill in.
The problem is that the story as a whole is better when those scenes don’t exist. It’s better at 2,000 words, leaving you wondering, leaving you thinking.
It keeps pulling me back, this story. I’m jumping backwards and forwards in time, adding layers, adding connections. It’s a story about regret, but really it’s a story about longing, about the pull of the distant horizon, and the ways people deal with that. Whatever it becomes, though, that first segment has to stand alone. If I want it published, I have to kill the rest, to cut it off like a parasitic twin and put it away. Maybe it will grow into a novel, and those scenes will eventually see the light of day. If not, tant pis.
(But it’s haaaaard they’re so goooooood)
Yes I know but you need to do it anyway.
It’s an old piece of advice, attributed to many writers over the years. Slate has its earliest appearance in Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch’s On the Art of Writing and it has been passed down by countless writers in advice and books and interviews and lectures ever since. I suspect this is because it acknowledges both the pain of the deletion and the tremendous, yet fragile, ego of writers everywhere. We know ourselves. We can laugh at ourselves.
It’s hard to take out so much good writing when you’re so happy with it, and excited to share it with people. It hurts when you know all that luscious backstory makes the piece worse instead of better, and that, brilliantly phrased or not, it needs to go. There is an almost physical pain to it.
But if it gets this piece in a magazine somewhere, it will be worth it.