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.


2 thoughts on “The Sections that Count

  1. Yes Lawrence, I think that would make a huge difference. The back story has to be there for a reason, plus later on in the book your reader might have cared more about the characters to want that back story.

    I have a part that I added in the early parts of my first novel. It is a scene where back story come in through dialogue and reminiscing. I’ve thinking about this scene in the last few days, and wondering if it should go. Difficult isn’t it? Especially when we’re so close to our own work.

  2. Hi Jenni,

    Yes, it’s difficult to decide. In fact, ruthless editing can really mess up a rewrite.

    All the best with your writing and trust your own instinct.


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