Saturday, October 9, 2010

Pruning - Keeping only the best

The story I'm working on is such a tangled jungle, like an unattended, wild grape vine covering nearby shrubs and hanging from adjoining trees, this work's structure is so obliterated it makes harvesting an ending a grasping, difficult experience. I need to do some serious pruning to make a better, more coherent story.

Once vines begin to grow, they're like ideas sprouting out in every direction—hard to contain. It is up to the grower-writer to decide which vines to keep, and which to remove. Placement of details, confrontations, action scenes, or 'ah-ha' moments can be too close together, confusing, illogical, or even superfluous, and distracting.

Pruning is usually done when the grape vine is dormant, in late winter, so the structure can be studied. Which translates into when the story is going through its first (or second, third, forth, etc.) revision in writing.

The first thing a grower looks for is damaged, diseased or broken vines. These are removed entirely, clipped back to a healthy bud. Writers' recognize these as half-baked ideas, sub plots going nowhere, or characters without purpose. Short vines are often painlessly, even ruthlessly, clipped out allowing air to flow through the structure. These cuts help prevent mold and fungal diseases, something you want to avoid in your writing, too.

Sometimes removing a well-developed vine is painful. The vine's buds look fat with potential, the stem thick with possibilities. The story-grower knows the placement is wrong for the plot, it interferes with the growth of a stronger more important idea, or it crowds the structure so other subplots won't develop correctly.

Pruning is hard work. Emotional investment in a particular scene sometimes blocks logical assessment of the scene's value to the story. Experience teaches that for the strength of the story, the cut must be made.

This is where critique groups become so valuable. Unbiased eyes are currently reading the manuscript I just completed. What they have to say may mean the difference between it becoming a published work or not, but I'm sure they will spot all the dead and useless growth. Looks like I'll be doing more pruning.

Rhobin L. Courtright, author Stone House Farm, Champagne Books
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Ciara Gold said...

Gosh, I'm not much of a gardener but I've been in pruning He.... I just cut 3000 words from my latest ms. But, I think the vines and roots will be much healthier for the trimming. LOL.

Allison Knight said...

Sometimes you have to dig up the whole plant and start over. Now, when it comes to gardening, I'm not much good, but I prune in my stories and sometime, I have to dig it up and throw it away. It hurts, but a Kim Chin says, if you force it, it doesn't work.

Big Mike said...

What a great analog, Robyn. Good job.

Michael Davis (
Author of the Year, (2008 and 2009)