Wednesday, June 16, 2010

I'll Kill You Next!

I’ll tell you something that really makes me happy: cutting the hell out of a story. The close-in, scalpel stuff that feels intimate and measured, as well as the big swooping bazooka blasts that take out entire scenes. To see that word count get smaller and smaller makes me feel as if I’m really doing my job, making it short and tight and not-so-sweet. And once I get started, it’s hard to stop. But you know, if you think that MAYBE you don’t need that line or that paragraph or that CHAPTER even, you’re probably right.
Crime fiction really is a genre that works best when it abides by the old “stick and move” principle. Fast moving, lean. Short chapters. It shares that distinction with horror fiction-- don’t get sidetracked and the reader will stay hooked one hundred percent. That’s part of the reason I’m not too keen on modern “best seller” type crime fiction-- those books tend to be much longer than the story can sustain. There’s really no reason a crime/suspense novel needs to be longer than, say, 350 pages or so.
That’s just me, though. What do I know?
This is on my mind currently because I just cut a good one hundred pages out of The Bastard Hand and I feel goddamn good about it. Tight line work throughout, yes, but the really gratifying part was cutting out whole chapters and realizing I didn’t need them at all. It was over 470 pages when I started the editing; now it comes in at about 360 pages. Still a bit long, but I can honestly say there’s no dead weight in there now. It moves along like crazy.
There will probably be more editing before The Bastard Hand comes out end of this year from New Pulp Press. And I won’t mind a bit. Gimme something else to slice out, man.
BTW, that photo has nothing to do with any of this, not directly. But that title sums up the sort of gleefully blood-thirsty mood I get in while editing…


  1. Look foward to The Bastard Hand.Economy of writing is a great art .

  2. The one exception I'll make on looong crime novels is James Ellroy

  3. Damn, I imagine you made Jon all kinds of happy with those cuts (470 pages would be HUGE for a NPP edition.) My issue with cuts is I come from the school of 'first thought's best' but I'm learning to keep it lean and mean. Can't wait to read Bastard Hand, Heath.

  4. That is excellent! I tell people that I learned it from Shakespeare. Hit your mark and move on. In 20 years of editing and 40 years of writing, not once have I said, "Hmm, this needs more words, more sentences, more paragraphs, more chapters, more padding, more..." Nah, keep the writing leaner than my body.

    Elmore Leonard leaves out the parts that people skip. Words of wisdom, man. Rock on.