Hacking and Slashing through the Novel — A Writer’s Journey

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It’s machete time for my novel.

The first draft took a long time to write. Some nights I worked late, late, late into the wee hours of morning. But now it is finished. Finally finished! So what do I do with the amazing, finished first draft of my novel? Well the stage immediately following the first draft is something I call the “hack and slash” stage. AKA, the writing stage where my moments of brilliance are slashed from the novel.

The “hack and slash” stage: This is the brutal stage of editing that immediately follows the first draft. As I said before, I write the first draft in screenplay format. This allows me to get through the first draft fairly quickly. It allows me to see the entire story in a condensed area. In addition, it allows me to make quicker decisions about what is important to the story, and what can be slashed. Generally, a brilliant two-page conversation is cut down to a few sentences.

This stage has a lot of hacking and slashing. Sometimes several pages are deleted with the click of a button, because they add nothing to the story. This stage trims all the excess baggage. This stage also allows me to see areas that are thin, kind of like pruning. Trimming some areas will allow other areas room to grow.

The 7-ish stages of writing I use are:

  • First Draft Stage
  • Commitment Stage: Decide if the story is interesting enough for more work after the first draft is completed. Many stories end here, sadly. Possibly not really a stage, but an important moment in fiction writing.
  • Hack and Slash Stage
  • Story Edit Stage
  • Character Edit Stage
  • Voice Edit Stage
  • Marinate – Rewrite Stage
  • Final Draft – Formatting

The character edit stage is my favorite because I love dynamic characters (along with the first draft). I hate the hack and slash stage. It is sometimes frustrating, because I know I spent a lot of time writing something that ultimately will not be in my book (in a physical form). Things I slash from my book are usually still part of the story in some way.

The slashed sections are normally still part of the story because that section helped me explore one of the characters. For example: How did Becca react when she got a flat tire? An early draft might have “several paragraphs” about how she remembered her grandfather changing a flat tire, or a time when she had to change her own tire in the rain. But the final draft, months from now, might be a few sentences that say: ‘the only good thing about getting a flat tire is that it reminded Becca of her grandfather changing a flat tire. Becca thought about how much she missed playing in her grandfathers vegetable garden. After the memory faded, Becca called a tow truck. As she waited for the tow truck to arrive, she wondered if she could start her own vegetable garden.’

These slashed scenes normally help me explore characters in situations, which help me understand how they will act in other situations. So those deleted scenes did serve an important purpose, even if no one else will ever see them.

I am not an expert. I share my journey so you can learn from my successes and failures. So what about you? How do you approach writing a novel?

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