Writers Tools, Cut-and-Don’t-Paste

UPDATE at 12:25:  Just saw my post is up at The Blood-Red Pencil on Amazon vs Smashwords! W00t!!

I now return you to the regularly scheduled post:

I have a writerly flaw. Shut up–I’m just talking about the one today, okay?

The flaw for today is: I start the story too early. Plots are hard for me and, even if I have an idea of where I want the story to go, I need to sit down and start writing before the characters get comfortable in my head and come alive to me and move into the actions that take them to the climax of the story. I’m also an edit-as-you-go writer, which means that, by the time the action actually begins, I’ve put in considerable time and effort on the stuff I’ve already written.

This means that I’m invested in a lot of material I don’t really need, and it’s pretty nicely done. My friends and admirers (I do have them) like the writing in the beginning bits, and I’m encouraged to keep them in because the beginning bits DO establish setting, character, voice and resonate with the coming conflict.

But that doesn’t mean those bits belong there, especially in a short story.

In a novel, you can afford to ride a bit on style–not long, but a bit. In a short story–especially a genre short story–not so much.

Not that every short story has to begin with somebody kicking down a door and striding in, guns and/or singing sword blazing, but….

Case in point: “Home on the Range” is a funny story. When anybody who has read it tells anybody else about it, they say, “It’s about a talking, smart-mouth, pot-smoking cow.” The cow doesn’t come into it for a lo-o-o-o-ong time. I should have opened the story with the conversation in which the main character is warned about the “wild cow” in the woods by her new home. Then, when she finds the wild cow in her kitchen and learns that “wild” doesn’t mean “undomesticated” but trash-talking and pot-smoking, there you go. But, no. I started way too far back, and the story lost impact because of it.

By the way, “Home on the Range” is in the Southern Indiana Writers Group’s anthology, IT’S ALWAYS SOMETHING.

If you’re a writer who tends to write too much lead-in, remember your old pal cut-and-paste. Make a folder called Scraps or Cuttings or Bits & Bobs, and use it for all the beautiful writing or interesting bits you’ve written that slow down the story but are too good to delete. Maybe you can use them dynamically somewhere else, or maybe you can just run them through the fingers of your mind like so many jewels. But don’t let them spoil your story before it starts.

WRITING PROMPT: Try to write a very boring scene. See how long it takes you to make it interesting in spite of yourself. Cut all the boring stuff.



I was born in Louisville, Kentucky, but now live in the woods in southern Indiana. Though I only write fiction, I love to read non-fiction. The more I learn about this world, the more fantastic I see it is.

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One thought on “Writers Tools, Cut-and-Don’t-Paste

  1. Gwen Mayo

    January 31, 2011 at 10:03am

    You are right to make those cuts and save them. I have a folder titled “cuts” which catches all those bits and pieces of writing that don’t belong in the current story. Sometimes they turn into an independent story, or get written into something different.

    Permalink  ⋅ Reply
    • Author

      Marian Allen

      January 31, 2011 at 12:16pm

      ‘Xac’ly! I call that–using bits of one thing in another thing–cannibalism. It sounds so much more dangerous than “using up leftover bits”.

      Permalink  ⋅ Reply
  2. Nancy Williams

    January 31, 2011 at 2:29pm

    I’ll head over to the blood.

    She yawned, stretched and threw the covers off, then realized there was an intruder in the house.

    Awoken by the loud bang. Marcy, jumped from bed and cracked her bedroom door open a notch. Voices ascended from the lower level. She didn’t recognize them. Grabbing her cell phone, she ran to the closet and squeezed between a pile of spring clothes before dialing, 911.
    N. R. Williams, fantasy author

    Permalink  ⋅ Reply

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