I’m revising my second novel again, a psychological thriller set in the English countryside. The same issue keeps coming up – trying to decide what to keep and what to delete. Removing a superfluous section or a character that has no real function in a story can greatly benefit a piece of writing, but sometimes cutting a section has the opposite effect and robs a story of its true nature.
Back story is a particular problem in this novel. A friend, who went through the entire manuscript and made notes, told me early on that there’s too much recollection of past events from the start. The answer seems to lie in a compromise. Clearly, some sections of a story are critical. The question to ask is: ‘can the story survive without the particular scene?’ Or to rephrase: “if I took it out, would it make any difference to the story?’ Interestingly, later on in the novel, the main character has a number of flashbacks of a childhood event he blocked out. My critic friend thought that these worked. This could be because the flashbacks have triggers, whereas a lot of the earlier back story recollections are introduced without a real purpose in mind.