I didn’t realize how much fluff I had filling out the crevices of my novel until my first beta reader got her hands on it and called it for the pillow it was.
And the only reason it happened in the first place was because, as a new novelist, I had made the same, CLASSIC mistake that almost all of us new novelists make (unless your college degree is in Creative Writing and you happen to be more honest to yourself than Spock was to Captain Kirk): I clung to sentences, paragraphs, chapters, and characters that/who didn’t belong in my story.
At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter how well-written the words or how creative the thought. If you know it’s excess, then you know it doesn’t belong.
But of course, I didn’t listen to any of that. I told myself every inch was worth the share and sent it off anyways, only to have my poor, first beta reader (and decade-long BFF) struggle to get through the first five chapters.
To me, it all seemed like gold.
To me, it was all worth keeping.
TO ME, I was a freaking genius!!!
Not even close.
She was right, that dear ole bestie of mine, and I knew it the second we spoke after two weeks of radio silence.
As each day passed and I didn’t hear from her, I knew something had gone terribly awry.
I had lost her somewhere in the depths of my bizarre fantasy novel and I was certain she didn’t know how to break it to me that she’d “accidentally” lost my book on her way to work one morning.
(“Nevermind that it’s in PDF format,” she’d stammer when I’d surprise call her on her lunch break to catch her off guard.)
Alas, we’re almost never as great as we think we are!
Do yourself and your beta readers a solid by combing through your novel one final time utilizing the Love It Or Lose It Challenge.
Take accountability for the material you’ve left in that doesn’t belong and get to snipping. Trust me, the world will absolutely keep spinning once you’ve trimmed the fat from your story.
LOVE IT OR LOSE IT DILEMMAS
From my experience and research on the topic, there are a few reasons why writer’s struggle to shed the content elements they know aren’t necessary for enhancing their plot or character motives.
WORD COUNT EXPECTATIONS
Shooting for a certain number and falling short of that expectation can leave you feeling obligated or excused in keeping content that you know doesn’t help your story.
SILLY LITTLE THING CALLED LOVE
Who said love at first sight is reserved for people you meet in real life? I learned first hand how easy it is to create a character you absolutely adore, only to find out that they’re not necessary to your story. AT. ALL. *Sigh* Life goes on.
If a moment in your story doesn’t make sense, it’s usually pretty obvious and if you try to force it to fit, that’s obvious too, leaving you with a convoluted story that is only so because you couldn’t let go.
If you didn’t take the time to discover all of the alternative directions your novel could have taken at any given time, then you’re likely settling on the first thing you came up with.
That you won’t be able to write anything better; that there isn’t a better way to frame it; that you can’t possibly do it any other way. Limiting beliefs convince you to stay in the hole you’ve made for yourself.
LOVE IT OR LOSE IT SOLUTIONS
Because I chose to create an entirely new world for my first novel, there were a ton of backstories, arcs and interesting tidbits that, for me, seemed indispensable. Why would I possibly kick Miss Brandilou Babidock out of my story after spending two whole chapters getting to know her better than my own grandma?!?! Because little old Babidock wasn’t necessary to my story, that’s why.
Here’s how I reconciled with each Love It Or Lose It dilemma head on:
YOU CAN ALWAYS WRITE MORE
Remind yourself that no matter how much you remove, you can always add more + because the stuff you remove only helps you further hone your story, you can rest assured that what you add will be even better than what you eliminated (most likely…T.N. Wilaro is not accountable for writing chops 😉 ).
SAVE EXCESS FOR LATER
Have you fallen in love with a useless character/sentence/chapter in your novel? Go ahead and cut it from the novel, but save it for later! You never know when you might find a use for it/them.
CALL OUT THE OBVIOUS
If you’ve created plot points that don’t make sense so you can force a storyline that also doesn’t make sense, the easiest way to solve the problem is to call out the poorly developed plot points and change them for the better. Everything is salvageable and chapters can be sewn together, so don’t worry about cutting out too much.
REDO YOUR STORY OUTLINE
If you’ve settled on the first outline you came up with for your story and then found it lagging in the middle, or that you’ve incorporated unnecessary story arcs (or WHATEVER), you should definitely take your story back to the outline phase and rework the boring components.
YOU CAN CREATE ANYTHING
Where therein lies a problem, you can craft a solution. Where you’ve written a bumbling chapter, you can rewrite a graceful one. If you find yourself falling victim to limiting beliefs (easy to do as a new writer, believe you me!) remind yourself that you are the creator in this situation and if you’ve created something that doesn’t work, you can always redesign it.
Every time I start editing one of my novels, I make sure LOVE IT OR LOSE IT is written in swirly, twirly marker on the white board next to my desk.
It’s important we remind ourselves that we’re here to make magic, not settle for fool’s gold.
If you find yourself leaving fluff in your novel for any of the above reasons, hunker down and prepare to love it or lose it.
What did you love & what did you have to lose?
It’s easy to love the work you make when you know it’s good stuff. The hard part is letting go of good stuff that you realize just doesn’t belong.
Imagine if J.K. Rowling had included every little backstory and insight and excessive tidbit into her stories. In hindsight, the Potter fans would’ve learned to adore it (who doesn’t want to know ALL the details behind their favorite characters?!), but in reality the books would’ve been excessively long and who knows how difficult to get through for her audience.
As the author, it’s your job to keep readers engaged with an intriguing story. It is not your job to tell the world about Miss Babidock’s comedically tragic upbringing (regardless of how riotous it may be).
Leave a comment below to let me know how this mindset helped you and what you learned to leave behind.