Author Kayelle Allen chats about editing her novel


Editing the Perfect Novel


I recently finished editing my new novel, Surrender Love, due from Loose Id on February 17, 2009. It’s erotic M/M Science Fiction Romance. When I finished it — that is, prior to my editor getting her first look — it was over a hundred and forty thousand words. We had to cut it to a hundred and twenty thousand for it to fit the outer edges of Loose Id guidelines. Twenty thousand words. My first thought was, “But it’s perfect! I can’t take out anything!” How do you cut that many words you’ve sweated to produce?


Michelangelo was once asked how he could sculpt such beautiful pieces of marble into lifelike creatures. Paraphrasing his words, his response was that if you want to carve a horse from a huge block of marble, you simply chip away anything that didn’t look like a horse. In writing, you chip away any words that don’t portray exactly what the reader needs to enjoy and understand the story.


Easier said than done? Too, too true. I followed a few steps I’d learned from previous books and soon cut it down to the right size. I can’t take all the credit. My editor, Hollie Hollis, guided me and provided excellent ideas on where to cut, but the actual snipping and trimming was mostly my own. It went back and forth between my editor and me several times, before going to another level, the line editor, back to my editor, and then to me. Each time, I cut more, polished more. So, what exactly did I cut? Here’s a basic list any author can follow and apply.


A) Look for sub-plots that don’t move the story forward, or can be developed in a sequel or another book. My strong suggestion is that you never cut anything more than a sentence or two without saving it to a document called Ideas for _______ , using the series name, or “other books”, etc.


B) Passages I particularly loved but didn’t fit for whatever reason went into Cuts I Love.doc. These were passages that could be adapted for any book I wrote, whereas the Ideas document is strictly for story-related material. An example from the Cuts doc is “Let yourself want it. Let yourself enjoy the lust, the heat. Let yourself rest in my arms while I pleasure you.” I cut this from another book because it didn’t work for my beta hero, but would be great in an alpha love scene.


C) Characters not necessary to the story. In Surrender Love, Luc had a dungeon in his penthouse, nearly an entire floor with rooms designed with every type of pleasure and punishment in mind. When he meets Izzorah “Rah” Ceeow and falls for him, he knows immediately the way to Rah’s heart is not through pain, but with a gentle hand. I wrote a scene where he calls in a designer and orders everything on that floor ripped out, and changed over to a private nightclub and areas for Rah’s rock band, Kumwhatmay, to practice and record. The designer also held appeal for another minor character, and I knew I couldn’t let them get together or sparks would fly. There wasn’t going to be time to chase that bunny trail, but it could end up launching a new book. I decided to cut and save it, eliminating several pages and nearly two thousand words.


D) Look for words that end in “ing”. This ending is proper for words used within a passive framework, but not for active. An example from Surrender Love is when the alpha hero is the passive recipient, and “ing” helps reveal that.


Luc shook his head, throat too tight, panting so hard he couldn’t speak.

“You’re starving for it, t’hahr. I can taste your hunger. Let me give myself to you.”

Luc didn’t trust his voice. Can’t lose control now. Can’t. Can’t. He shook his head, fighting for mastery of his emotions.


If you find “ing” words where the scene should be active, it’s easy to change to active. Here is the same passage, altered from passive to active. Note the slight change in wording.


Luc shook his head, throat too tight. He panted, speech past him.

“You’re starving for it, t’hahr. I can taste your hunger. Let me give myself to you.”

Luc didn’t trust his voice. Can’t lose control now. Can’t. Can’t. He mastered his emotions and shook his head.


The first paragraph is fifty words; the second is forty-seven. Three words doesn’t sound like much, but multiply that by eliminating three words per page in a three hundred page document, and you have nine hundred words. Averaging two hundred fifty words per page, you’ve cut almost four pages.


The key point is that “ing” words often reveal passive phrases. Hunt them to sharpen the action and reword to make the sentence stronger. Small reminder: not all such words are going to help, i.e., thing, sing, string, during, something, anything, ring (noun), and so on. If you look, however, you’ll find plenty of places to change structure and write in a more active tense, often saving words.


These are the fastest way to cut, and there are many more. I’d love to hear ideas from you!


The book I referenced in this article is Surrender Love, coming from Loose Id on February 17, 2009.

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