Monday, February 28, 2011

Director's cuts and why we kill our darlings

She generally gave herself very good advice (though she very seldom followed it). ~ Lewis Carroll

Have you ever watched a director's cut version of a movie? They usually contain scenes that were cut from the original movie. I recently watched the director's cut of the 1985 movie, Legend, starring Tom Cruise, a long time favorite of mine. I was really looking forward to seeing an additional 20 minutes of footage I've never seen before.

I hated it! Twenty extra minutes turned what was once a dramatic tale into a corny, sappy disaster. (This isn't true for all director's cuts... leave a comment telling me which director's cuts you loved!)

One would think that a few extra scenes would enhance a movie (or a book) - but not necessarily! If they don't advance the plot or the characters' dilemmas, they could end up detracting instead of enhancing.

I've reached the 75,000 word mark for novel #3. According to my outline, it was supposed to be finished right around 75k, all the plot threads tied together nice and neat. But I'm just barely to the "darkest moment" part of the novel, with the "saving moment" and all the conclusion still ahead of me. The final word count for the first draft of this YA historical fantasy, at this rate, is probably going to push 85-90k (too high for a YA novel*).

Wordiness! My bane! - I'm going to have to kill some of my darlings (e.g. scenes or partial scenes that I love, but don't contribute enough to plot advancement or character development). My comfort when it comes to cutting will be remembering that the edited version of Legend was so much more dramatic and powerful than its uncut version.

Have you seen a director's cut that you'd recommend? Also - speaking of movies, it reminded me that the Academy Awards were yesterday. What 2010 movie would you have voted to get Best Picture (even if it wasn't a nominee?) (I was torn between the King's Speech, Toy Story 3, and Inception!)

* Several commenters have pointed out that 85k or even 100k isn't unreasonable for the world-building required for a historical fantasy. Great news! (But I'm still betting that my critique partners will spot lots of wordiness, and perhaps a few extraneous scenes, that need cutting.)

p.s. Many thanks to everyone who contributed encouraging and prodding comments to help me get to my March 1st word count goal. I wouldn't have made it so far without the on-line support. Winners are Laura Pauling and Candice Kennigton, both of which returned to comment again on my word count progress (thank you for the encouragement!) and earned extra entries ( picked the winning numbers). They each win a $15 certificate to Amazon. Victoria Dixon earned extra points for being my pick for most creative comment "Impressive. *Darth Vader breath* Most impressive. Seriously. :D Congratulations on the word count and keep it coming!" (I wish she could have won, too!)

p.p.s Also, many thanks to Alison Stevens who gave me the Versatile Blogger award recently, and Shelley Blatt who gave me the Stylish Blogger award. I'll be passing on these awards to some bloggers I've met recently via Rachael Harrie's wonderful Crusaders project (list to come tomorrow).


  1. I've not seen the director's cut for Legend and am now most curious!

    I must admit I adored and prefered the director's cut version of Blade Runner - but in this case, extraneous scenes were indeed cut to make for a bleaker more memorable film imo!

    I loved the King's Speech (and Toy Story 3) so I was most happy with the Oscars' outcome!!

    Oh wow - congratulations with surpassing your word goal!!!!! Yay!!!!!!! Now for the awful bit - the *gulp* slash and burning - also known as revision and editing! GOOD LUCK, BE BRAVE, BE BOLD!

    Take care

  2. I know just how you feel - wordiness is my bane too! ;)

  3. Huh, I've never seen a Director's Cut - interesting. That is a great reminder to think about tension and conflict and pacing when we revise.

  4. I haven't been to the movies in the last year (actually I haven't been to a theater in almost 3 years), so I hadn't seen most of the nominees.

    Just so you know, word count came up in last night's WriteOnCon Live Chat with an agent and editor and the agent (Suzie Townsend) said that for YA fantasy, 'Anything under 75-80k for something with worldbuilding is a really tough sell" so maybe you're okay with your word count!! Email me if you want a link to the transcript :)

  5. PS- We rented the Robin Hood movie with Russell Crowe and I didn't like it--I had really high expectations for it...but then we rented the Director's Cut and I loved it! Very odd :)

  6. but...but... maybe this story was meant to be more than 75000 words. You never know... just don't be too quick to get rid of too many of your darlings, mkay? :-)
    I do have to give you thumbs up many times, because you did it, you reached your march 1st goal. :)

  7. Whenever I watch deleted scenes, I think, "Yeah, they knew what they were doing when they cut that one." It didn't move the story forward at all. It's the same with our "darlings." Characters I can kill. Scenes, not so much.

  8. I like this post, but one thing had me screeching to a stop and almost shouting "WHAT?!" But I can't do that because I'm in the library.

    You're writing a YA historical fantasy, which Collen Lindsay said in her word count post that YA fantasy can be 100K.

    Yes, that's right. 100K. (her post:

    It'd probably do you best if it was around 85K, 90K, but if you send a query to agent with your word count being 75K, they'll probably think that isn't enough words for worldbuilding. In last night's Writeoncon live chat with Suzie Townsend and Maria Gomez, a question came up with the word counts and Suzie said if a YA historical or fantasy is around 75K, that's a little too short for worldbuilding.

    So, I hope you reach the end soon, but you might want to rethink about this "killing your darlings" idea. 75K for historical fantasy seems way short to me, since some contemporaries can be around that length.

  9. Glad the WIP is going well!! I usually have the opposite problem, I have to add in later more than cut away. Though I still have things I need to trim of course. That's why the revisions are so important.

  10. I know exactly how you feel. Word count is such a big thing nowadays, but it's so hard to cut out scenes when you're doing some world-building for your fantasy book.
    Thanks for dropping by my blog! I'm so glad you did bec. now I've discovered your blog. New follower here! Love that you love fantasy as well!

  11. I love the Director's Cut of Blade Runner. One of the few examples where it was the better for it. And oh! The Abyss Director's Cut was much the better for it too :)

  12. I have the opposite problem of wordiness - I tend to write too sparsely and my betas are usually telling me where I need to expand on a scene or add description or show more character reaction. Thank goodness for those betas!

  13. I wish I had your problem with wordiness-- I can barely push to 75000 in my current WIP and I know I will have to flesh a lot out in the revisions. Glad you are so far!!!

  14. YAY!!! WOOHOO!! I can't wait to buy a shiny new book from amazon.

    It's amazing how much our writing journey's parallel each other (as you pointed out on my blog). I too thought I would be finishing up my book in the next few weeks at around 50-55K. But as I outlined the end, I realized there's still a lot of loose ends to tie up. This shouldn't surprise me since my first couple novels were close to 100K and required drastic editing. But better to do it right than too fast.

    Speaking of fast... Great job on your weekend goal! I only finished about 3K by the end. But my husband surprised me with a fun date and Sunday turned out to be busy, so I'm really happy with the 3K. I probably would have just let my MS sit over the weekend if not for our challenge.

  15. I've stopped watching Deleted Scenes from anything (even when I was watching Lost faithfully) because they usually don't add anything, and they seem so...superfluous. No wonder they were cut!

  16. I have one manuscript that is WAY too long - I've pratically begged my crit group to cut away. But another of my novels ended up being too short and I had to add. I think I'd rather cut! :)

  17. I haven't watched a director's cut that was better than the theater release. Even when watching the deleted scenes, you can understand why they were deleted. I'm going to be over my wordcount as well. *sigh*

  18. This is a brilliant post. When you put it this way with the director's cuts, you realize what a difference it makes to cut out scenes or portions of scenes that add nothing to the story. And the good news is it doesn't cost you anything in the end. They can't say that about the movie scenes that never should have been created. ;)

  19. This is so funny--I just found your blog from your Goodreads profile (we have 26 books in common, so I figured it would be wise to check you out!), and I come here and see several of my friends' comments! I'm always amazed at how connected we all are!

    Congrats on making your word count. Director's cuts come during revisions--you'll wrangle that word count down!

  20. Hi, Margo,

    I know how you feel. MY first novel was 125,500 words... EEEK! For a y/a fantasy.

    I cut it down to a lovely 90,000 which is okay for fantasy. But i was TOLD to cut more. So I slimmed it down, big time to 70,000 and was thrilled with the results.

    Although my mc's are 11 and 13, I was told my ms should be turned into an m/g novel.

    So you guessed it ... now I have to further reduce to 50,000. Where? I already cut 25k words. So I am trimming once more. My best hope is for about 58k. I will not KILL OFF any more. I already murdered too many of my treasured scenes.

    GOOD luck...


  21. You're bang on about extra-footage. Most of the time it truly can't be worked into the film without watering it down.

    Some of my favorite 'long-cuts' have already been mentioned: Bladerunner and the new Robin Hood. I'll add the Harry Potter movies (you can catch the longer editions on TV, and now on special edition discs), and Lord of the Rings. The LOTR ones add hours to already lengthy films, but you owe to it yourself to watch them. The theatrical versions simply leave out too much of the story.

  22. I'm working on a major revision and trying to keep my word count under a certain number, but as I *improve* the writing, I see the word count climb ... ACK! So, I'm working hard to improve the writing AND tighten it as well. Eliminate those unnecessary words!

  23. LOL I'm just glad my silliness gave you a giggle. :) And congratulations! You seriously do inspire me. I'm struggling to put two sentences down these days - and not delete them.

  24. Have to comment on the Oscars - should've been Inception for Best Picture.



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