On Reanimating Old Outtakes – a Cautionary Tale

Now that the weather is turning cool, I’m getting more frequent cuddly desk companions again. I’m sure it’s me they love, not my warm lamp.

I used to have this writing teacher who did not believe in revising via word processor. Yes – she was old school. But she was firmly convinced that the advent of word-processing software had created lazy revisers, because writers could cut, paste, rearrange and massage the existing words. Before the software, revising meant retyping or rewriting by hand from beginning to end. She thought that recasting the story from the beginning led to greater insights and a more cohesive product. She exhorted us to resist the urge to revise the existing document and instead, type it again from the beginning, the old-fashioned way.

Of course, we all rolled our eyes at her and totally ignored this advice. I mean, who has the freaking time? When you have this great technology that lets you tweak an existing document, why on earth would anyone spend all that time and effort to type it all out again?? So none of us followed her advice.

More and more, though, I’m starting to think she’s right.

Not that I do it.

Those of you keeping track at home know that I’m deep into writing the sequel to Rogue’s Pawn, fondly known as RP2, because I haven’t decided what title I want to propose. I’m kind of waiting to see how the story turns out.

(I love to say things like that, just to imagine all the plotters clutching their heads with anxiety.)

A couple of days ago I realized I’d forgotten to weave in a thread that I needed and that a scene I’d cut from Rogue’s Pawn was exactly what should go there. For all of you readers who bitched noticed that there were some questions left unanswered in the first book, this is part of why. There were chunks that had to be cut out, just to find some kind of reasonable conclusion. I always knew they’d work into the later stories somehow (or hoped), but I wasn’t sure where or how.

So, on Wednesday I pasted in this 5K chunk and yesterday I set to massaging it into place. A task I thought would go quickly.

Um, no.

In fact, having cut half of it and writing a whole bunch of new stuff, I’m still nowhere done with that section.

Worse, I’m starting to realize that if I’d just rewritten the scene, I’d likely be done already.

It’s difficult to explain why, but it’s somehow more challenging to wrestle old work into a new mold that to just write something fresh in the new vein. A lot has changed in the story. This is a scene between Rogue and Gwynn and their dynamic has come a long way. So the way they talk to each other, touch each other, where they’re at in their heads, their goals and desires – all of these things have changed. And that all requires subtle reworking of what they say, how they say it and when, the tone, pacing, word choice.

Yeah, I’m clutching my own head. I totally deserve that.

So, will I just rewrite the damn scene from the beginning? Probably not. It’s reworked now. I did end up just cutting the rest of the scene and I’ll write the second half of it fresh, because a lot of that part no longer applied.

I did a post about six months back on Letting the Babies Stay Dead. It elicited some lively debate on whether outtakes (those babies that need to be “killed” or cut out) should be kept or ditched entirely. In that I said I wondered if I should give all of mine a decent burial, instead of keeping them around in case I could reanimate them.

Clearly I didn’t do it and now I’m looking at the monster I brought back to life by patching new flesh onto old and I’m thinking that if I hadn’t saved that scene, I would have had to retype it from the beginning. Just like my teacher advised us to do.

One of these days I’ll learn my lesson.

Letting the Babies Stay Dead

There’s a long-used term in the writing and publishing world: Kill Your Babies.

This is, of course, a euphemism for being willing to recognize which parts of your work are, well, self-indulgent tripe that needs to be cut. For some reason, it’s often the bits we’re most emotionally attached to in our work that needs to be deleted. I suspect it has something to do with that very attachment that makes those parts not good enough. We’re too invested in the meaning to ourselves to have perspective on how it contributes to the story.

Regardless, we all learn at some point to kill our babies.

What this means for most of us, though, is that we delete the offending passage or section and paste it into a document we save. We call it “Outtakes” maybe, and we keeps it forever, Precious. No, the baby isn’t dead, it’s just…Sleeping. I’m sure there are some ruthless, emotionally balanced authors out there who really, truly delete and forever nuke their babies. But many of us have them, little shriveled corpses in the basements of our laptops, that – who knows? – could one day be reanimated! The baby could live again!

The other day I re-watched Notting Hill, one of my all-time favorite movies. (I know this is my second reference to a movie rewatch. I have this Cold Virus That Will Not Die, and so I’ve been spending a lot of time reclining on the couch, alas.) At any rate, I love this movie so much, that I own it. This time I noticed there are special features and, basking in the glow of the Notting Hill love, I watched those, too. They included Deleted Scenes.

Hot Damn! MOAR Notting Hill to love!

The thing is? Those deleted scenes really sucked. They deserved to be deleted. I don’t know what went wrong with them, but they weren’t in line with the crispness of the rest of the movie. Whoever made the decision to cut those scenes exercised excellent judgment. Afterwards, I was kind of sorry I’d watched them. They diluted my glow ever so slightly with their badness.

And it made me think of all the babies I’ve been saving, just in case I can reanimate them. I’ve noticed a blog trend lately where writers are posting deleted sections of their novels or manuscripts. Kind of a fun thing – like the deleted scenes in the special features – and everyone is always looking for blog topics. Still, I’m wondering if it’s a good idea. If something isn’t good enough to stay in the story, it probably shouldn’t be read by anyone besides your CPs and your editor – who are likely the ones who told you to get rid of it in the first place.

After all, none of us really wants anyone to know about all those zombie babies in the basement. It might look bad.

I’m thinking mine might deserve a decent burial.