We’ve all had those fluid writing moments in which everything just seems to pour onto the paper with grace. The words come from a place you can’t always call upon. In the moment, everything seems eternally beautiful and poetic, and you fear someone will walk through the door and shatter your fragile thoughts. Sometimes, we look back at those moments, in a far less magical state of mind, and marvel at our words. We tend to fall in love with them. And that love makes us blind. Because even if we create amazing passages, we can’t always see when they don’t belong in our books. We let them stay, sucking something out of our stories in an inexplicable way–when we should be following our story revision instincts.
You Can’t Ignore Elephants Forever
“Elephant” passages are the places in your story that feel odd or out of sync with the rest of the work. They make you make you stumble, skim, and avoid editing. But despite their blatant nature, you pretend you don’t see them. You’re bound to them in the beginning, feeling as though you can’t amputate them from the body of the work.
Whenever you experience this feeling, you need to ask yourself some questions:
- What does this add to my manuscript?
- Am I just killing time? (Don’t take up space with fluff!)
- Is it just a means to an end? (If it’s happening because it must happen in order for the Great Ordeal to make sense in Chapter Twelve, but you’re not feeling it, figure out a new way to make it work.)
Identifying Elephants—Passages that Need to Change or Leave
If you’ve done any of the following, you may need to alter or omit some gray areas in your story:
- You have a gut feeling it’s not working.
- You’ve thought about changing it multiple times and each time you’ve convinced yourself it was okay.
- You don’t feel like uprooting an entire chain of events, so you justify its presence.
- You squirmed when your beta readers pointed it out.
- You notice a distinct difference in tone that isn’t natural. Even if it’s lovely, it just doesn’t fit.
Listen to your story revision instincts. When you can finally kick out the elephant and replace it with something that makes you proud, your entire novel will rejoice. Time is never wasted fixing something seemingly tedious.
Create a “Misfits” Folder
We can easily lose heart after falling in love with passages that ultimately don’t work for our novels. Don’t trash those bits and pieces of the things you cherish. Create a folder on your computer and fill it with these disembodied passages. You may find they fit perfectly into a different story. Or you may need them for inspiration while facing writer’s block at another point and time. Bottom line: don’t delete your words—just move them.
Accept that Elephants Will Always Join the Party and Get Better at Asking Them to Leave
As your writer’s journey progresses, you will learn how to avoid the mistakes you made as a rookie writer. But you will probably always end up with elephant passages. It’s part of the creative process—getting it all out of you and coming back to mold, smooth, and refine. The skill set you can hone along the way is identifying Elephant passages, loving them for what they are, and learning when to cut the cord so they don’t hold you back.