Making The Hard Cuts by Jami Gray

Hard CutsLet’s welcome back monthly columnist Jami Gray as she shares with us “Making The Hard Cuts.” Enjoy!


With the upcoming conference and contest session upon us, writers may be scrambling to craft that perfect one-liner that captures the 300 plus pages of perfection to lob to an editor or agent. There may be some who are quietly being fitted for white jackets with buckles as they pare down their beautiful creature into 1 to 5 page synopsis to accompany that one-line pitch. If you’re hoping for words of wisdom on these two items, sorry, I’ll leave that to someone else better suited and not currently tearing their hair out trying to accomplish the same thing.

However, it does bring me to this: If you talk to a writer, you’ll find that they can be a tad bit overprotective of their creations. It’s a completely understandable attachment, but it can wreak havoc during the revision process. Ask them to tighten up their story and you will be met with gasps of horror. Tighten? As in cut out pieces of my baby? Are you mad?

Let me share the writer perspective when initially approached to make such drastic changes in a *cough, cough* hypothetical situation (of which I have no personal knowledge of).

Wylie Writer is considering submitting his latest project to a contest in an attempt to catch the eye of the lovely Edith Editor. According to the submission rules, he has a whopping 20 pages to capture her heart. Wylie wants to appeal to Edith’s desires, and knows he must work fast to sway her attention to only him.

To do this he must accomplish all of the following in a short amount of time:

  • Introduce the hero and/or heroine in such a way as Edith can’t bear to look away
  • Ensure Edith knows Wylie’s story will chase a happily ever after/save the world/change her life forever
  • Surround Edith with a realistic world that leaves her in awe
  • Give Edith the beginnings of a fantastical journey fraught with complications she can’t walk away from
  • Use his persuasive powers to prove to Edith she has never heard such a unique voice as Wylie’s

While 20 pages may seem like a lot (and compared to the normal query plus 0-10 pages it is), it can be a challenge to capture all of this. Wylie decides to indulge in a practice run before presenting his case to Edith. He runs it by Charlie Crit, who is known for his straight-up truth. Charlie peruses Wylie’s plan, makes some notes (enough the pages may resemble a bloody corpse) and hands it back to the now crest-fallen Wylie with a word of warning, “Cut the first chapter, start with the second.”

Wylie’s gutted. “Cut the first chapter? But…but…what about—”

Charlie shakes his head. “All of it.”

Wylie tries not to lose his lunch. “ALL OF IT? WHY?”

Charlie refrains (barely) from rolling his eyes. “It’s setting, that’s it. It’s entertaining, and yeah we get to meet your cast of characters, but other than a paragraph here or paragraph there, it’s world setting, stuff you, Wylie, might need to know, but I don’t, so get rid of it. Chapter 2, now that’s where it gets good. We’re dropped into the middle of a blood bath, your heroine is front and center and by the end of the scene she and your hero are sharing air. I don’t want to wait eighteen pages to get to that point.”

Wylie whimpers. Charlie narrows his eyes. “How badly do want Edith?”

Wylie sucks in a shuddering breath, tightens his hold on his soon-to-be leaner precious. “She’s quite the catch.”

Charlie delivers a solid shoulder punch. “Then suck it up, man and get serious. You’ve got one shot to get her under your spell. Make it count.”

Does this sound familiar to any of you writers out there? (Noting the dropped heads and averted glances).

Making the hard cuts sucks. Way beyond the repair properties of chocolate, but they are necessary. Readers want to open your book and be swept away, not meander through the lilies. While world creation or character description are wonderfully beautiful things, just like backstory they can slow your story to a snail’s pace. Weave those things in later, after you’ve flambéed the zombie pterodactyl or survived the horde of killer rabbits.

Before you go pursue your Edith, take a hard look at your creation. Does it hit the five points needed to entrance Edith? Can you tell? If your vision is obscured by tears, find a Charlie and see if you can capture his hard heart, because if he falls, Edith is all yours.

Wishing you all the best on your conquest!



Jami GrayJami Gray is the award winning, multi-published author of the Urban Fantasy series, The Kyn Kronicles, and the Paranormal Romantic Suspense series, PSY-IV Teams. Surrounded by Star Wars obsessed males and two female labs moonlighting as the Fur Minxes, she escapes by playing with the voices in her head.

If you want to hunt her down, she can be found lurking around the following cyber locations:






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  • Hugh Tipping says:

    It is not easy “throwing away” words that you may have spend a lot of time on. But you’re right, if they don’t work, they shouldn’t be there. I have a big “getting to know you” scene between two characters,that reveals a lot about the protagonist. But it also reveals a lot about the other character who will soon disappear. Why bother then? My editor has encouraged me to delete (or seriously pare down) the scene because it doesn’t advance the story. That’s what I’ll do even though I like a lot of what’s there. I’ll take the moments of exposition for the protagonist and sprinkle them over the next few pages where there is a lot more action.

  • I cleaned out the unnecessary words. Now, I need to cut more to get to the trip through time before 20 pages.

  • Jami Gray says:

    Hi Hugh and Carolyn! Thanks for visiting.

    Hugh–you’re absolutely right, cutting is one of the hardest things. As the giver of life to these words, having to axe them is down right agonizing. This is why I continue to lavish love and affection on my editors, because even though they know the emotional trauma they will inflict with their verdict of “it must go”, when the bloodletting is finished, my story is tighter and much better for it.

    Carolyn, it’s never easy trying to figure out what must the reader absolutely, positively know before we fling them into time warp/slug infested mud pit/middle of a bloody battlefield. I wish I had a magic phrase or question to help you determine that, instead I can only wish you all the luck in the world.

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