Thursday, August 11, 2011

Cutting Room Floor

Hello All,

I've been living like a hermit for much of the summer trying to finish my second book and working on edits for the first one. Which leads me to apologize for my spotty blog posting of late. :)

As I've been doing a lot of revisions for my publisher, I find myself quite adept at trimming and reshaping a manuscript. Sometimes, revision means cutting the fat. Said fat may be cut because the scene isn't working. Or it may be cut because there simply is no room for it given certain word count restrictions.

We often get into discussions of word counts, and there is a continuing notion that word count is dependent on quality. As in, if it works, the publisher won't care about word count. That may be true for some, but in my publishing house, there are word count limits. Thus, I had to pull out the trimming shears.

Scenes that went were ones in which I could easily take the pertinent information out of and put it in another scene. This is the easiest way to make cuts. Read each scene you have and root out the key information. Can that info fit elsewhere and still make sense? If so, it may be the scene to cut. Pick out a few of these borderline scenes and often times, you'll find that these scenes can be combined, and the weakest ones can go.

Ah, but I still have a fondness for certain orphaned scenes. And since we've been sharing scenes, here is one picked up from my cutting room floor.

In Which Archer Ponders His Mask:

“Where are you going?”

Miranda jumped at the sound of Archer’s voice, visibly shocked to see him home, for he had told her he was going out riding. In truth, he had only stopped in the library to glance at the day’s mail when he spotted her slinking toward the front door. Something inside of Archer ripped open, raw and aching. She was afraid of him now. And why shouldn’t she be? When half of London thought him guilty of murder, and the other thought him a freak.

Stiffly, she turned around, and he was stuck anew at the sight of her. With the flawless sweep of her jaw, and her jewel green eyes sparkling with intelligence and cunning, she entranced him.

Those green eyes narrowed upon his face, and a little scowl formed between her auburn winged-brows. “Out.”

“Where?” He could not have her unprotected. Not with an unhinged killer out for blood running amok.

“Am I not allowed to go out?” she asked crisply. “If so, tell me now, for I was under the impression that this was my home, not a prison.”

He picked up a glass, and then remembering the mask, slammed it back down again. The heavy crystal cracked like gunfire. “I am your bloody husband, woman! If I want to know where you are going, you will damn well tell me.”

Her creamy skin flushed red. “Then why bother to frame your demands as questions? Why not grab me by my hair and fling me into the dungeon with the rats!”

“Because we haven’t a dungeon!”

His bellow echoed off of the walls and died in the face of her silence. A sick knot of regret twisted his insides.

“I’m sorry.” A sigh escaped him. “I have been solitary for so long. Proper discourse eludes me.”

Silence swelled around him. He dared a look. No longer flushed or agitated, Miranda studied him with a thoughtful expression that made him want to squirm. The instant their eyes met, the corner of her puffed mouth tugged upward. An answering tug jerked at his cock.

“I can believe that,” she said, oblivious to his torment.

For the life of him, he couldn’t think of what to say. He only wanted to act. To take. To claim. He fought for a measured breath. Those green eyes were draining his resolve.

“This is your home.” His voice had settled to its normal timbre but his blood still hummed. “I would simply appreciate the common courtesy of knowing when you go and when you’ll return.”

She pulled on her tan kid gloves. “Fair enough,” she said. “In the future, I shall inform you of my daily plans. Is that all?”

“London can be dangerous. I ask that you take along two footmen.”

She nodded but her scowl stayed. “I’ve heard what people are saying. About Sir Percival.” The abrupt words came out as an accusation. And ripped further into that aching hole in his heart. He had expected this, waited for it, really.

He tried to sound bored. “Of course you have. Had we a dungeon, the rats in it would be discussing it over tea by now.”

The frown grew, her celadon eyes searching. “Would you like to tell me about it? Your side.”

His side. As if he were already on trial. And what to say? ‘I didn’t do it’ always came off as guilt.

“No,” he said.

Disappointment turned her eyes dull. “I didn’t believe you would.”

He found himself wanted to shout his innocence if only to reassure her. He ground his teeth together. Suddenly he wanted her away from him. Her presence made his skin crawl. Her doubt was a crushing weight on his chest.

“Well then,” he said lightly, “be safe.”

Again she nodded, but her eyes went back to his face as if compelled. Her delectable mouth pursed. Perhaps it wasn’t fear of him; she certainly did not censure her tongue when they conversed. Perhaps it was simply a matter of his appearance. His mask. He could see it in the reflection of the mirror. Brick red with a golden dragon’s head painted upon it, he had picked it up in China. A painted forked tongue flickered down from the mouth-hole as if snubbing the world. If one was forced to wear masks, why not have a bit of fun with it? It seemed sound reasoning at the time. Only now…

“You do not like the masks.” God, he should have kept his mouth shut.

Her head snapped up. “I do not,” she agreed, eviscerating him with three words.

“The masks should not matter,” he said through the pain.

“They don’t.”

His breath hitched but her gloved hands curled tight, and she spoke again, leaving him no chance of a rejoinder. “No, that isn’t right. How you look does not affect my feeling for you.”

Behind the mask, Archer’s mouth fell open. His heart thudded against his ribs as she took a little step forward. “I find I like you, Archer, despite your best efforts.”

“You think I don’t want you to like me?”

She peered into his eyes as if she was desperate to retract some great secret. “Your reticence, the fact that you deliberately seek to push me away, is what angers me.”

If she only knew. He steeled himself against stalking over to her, pulling her against the hot hard place that ached for her comfort. He managed to keep his tone aloft. “Your leaps in logic astound me. Need I remind you, madam, that we’ve only just met and–”

“And yet we are husband and wife. Do you assume to live indefinitely with me, and all the while hiding behind a mask?” Challenge marked every line of her delectable body. Her voice was hard when she spoke. “While using a mask to scare me away, I should say.”

His fist crashed against the table, scattering decanters in a cacophony of clanking. “Of all the idiotic–”

“Prove me wrong then.” She lifted her pert chin. “Take off the mask.”

His chest grew so hot and tight he could not breath. He wanted to scream at her, only somehow that would prove her point. “No,” he got out through clenched teeth.

“I thought you would say that.” Her gaze was clear and ruthless. “Then I will be equally blunt. If you must wear a mask, might you make the mask a pleasant one? Or even plain? I hate that one. It is ugly and mocking. You wield it quite effectively.”

White light burst behind his lids. For a moment he could only grind his teeth as vile curses and denials surged through his head. But she simply stood before him, her expression implacable as if she waited for him to explode.

That look gave him pause. Laughter bubbled within him. The minx had goaded him on purpose. Probably thought he’d fling his mask off in a rage. Clever girl. He would not give her the satisfaction. He pursed his twitching lips, and bowed his head in acquiescence. “Then the dragon is no more.”

He expected annoyance, or perhaps a pout over failing to rouse him. Instead, her smile was the brilliance of the sun. Her eyes locked with his and the world about him slowed, narrowed into her. His mouth opened, to say what he did not know.

Her honeyed voice, now filled with that meddling pragmatism that drove him mad, cut through his reverie. “Very well, then. Good day.”

FIRELIGHT excerpt Copyright © 2012 by Kristen Callihan


  1. Arrgh! That one got cut? That was one of my favorite scenes. I love her challenge, "Prove me wrong, take off the mask." And his response to that says volumes. I hope you were able to take the essence of this scene and put it somewhere else.

    Cutting scenes has gotta hurt...

  2. Very interesting. I'll be looking forward to your book's release. =)

  3. Susan -- I loved that scene too. :( My editor didn't ask for that cut but something had to go (18k words, actually) and they basically have the same conversation at the museum.

    Cutting hurts but you have to numb yourself to it. Then slap it up somewhere else so it can live on! lol

  4. Hi Crystal. Glad to hear it! Thanks! :)

  5. Argh! If you can cut that Kristen, I really ought to stop babying all my so-called lovely words. Cut, slice, dice, hack! Off I go...
    "because we haven't a dungeon" [g]

  6. I'll be looking forward to your book release!!

  7. Kristen that was a fantastic scene. Wow. This editing is scary stuff.
    Eeep. Not sure I'm going to be able to be that ruthless.

  8. @Deniz - You know, that was one of my favorite Archer lines. And I had to cut it. Sobs. I'm glad at least that you all can read it here. :)

    @Maeve - Thank you!

    @Jill -Thank you! Like I said to Susan, I just had to numb myself and do the deed. Tell myself it was for the greater good. It gets easier the more you do it, tho!