How To Trim Your Story To The Bone

coverUsing my unreleased manuscript An Angel On Her Shoulder, I am showing you my techniques for reworking a story into a more readable, more enjoyable piece. It’s 45+ lessons in about 45 days. (To start at Chapter 1, click HERE.)

To view it best, bring up the two versions in different windows and view them side by side to see what was changed.

Then give me your thoughts in the comment section.

Trim Your Story To The Bone

Ya gotta know what to cut and what to keep. How do you decide?

Read the chapter and I’ll tell you at the bottom.


Chapter 33 “FINAL”

I woke up when Sparkles jumped into my lap. I had a few minutes before Mallory came downstairs—a few minutes to decide what to tell her about Tyree or the mambo. Everything? Nothing?

I had to tell her something eventually.

Maybe it was time for her to meet Tyree for herself. Then, depending on how that went, we could go meet Dahlia together in Ybor City . . .

That actually seemed like a good idea. I peered at the clock. It wasn’t 7am yet, but I wasn’t sure what kind of hours a guy like Tyree kept, anyway.

I clicked on the TV to get an update on the hurricane. From the constant noise of the wind and rain outside, it had gotten worse, but I wanted to see the storm’s projected track. For days, the meteorologists had been going back and forth as to whether it was to Tampa or not. They’d have to make the call pretty soon, and there would probably be an hourly update on the news.

Sparkles nudged me.

“Okay, let’s go outside.” I stretched and stood up. He bounded off the couch and ran to the door, wagging his tail. I followed.

The wind yanked the doorknob out of my hand and thrust open the door. Sparkles scurried backwards. The steady rush of the pre-hurricane winds had arrived. Strong, noisy, and unrelenting.

Sparkles didn’t seem to want to gout now, but he couldn’t hold it until the storm passed. That could be days.

I tried again. “Come on, big fella.”

I opened the door into the howling wind. Sparkles crouched, tail under him, and crawled outside with me.

With some effort, I got the door closed. The gusts pushed and pulled on me, nearly knocking me over, the main feature of the looming hurricane was the constant high wind, with its constant hum.

Everyone has been in a storm. Everyone has heard the wind howl on a rainy night. What makes this stuff different is the continuity. It doesn’t stop. It’s like a car driving toward you when you’re out for a walk, but it never dissipates. It doesn’t go away in the morning and it doesn’t go away when the rain stops. It goes away a week later when the big dark clouds of the hurricane come and rip everything to shreds.

The yard was littered with limbs and leaves. One of the neighbor’s trees had already broken off in the wind and lay over part of the road.

And in the tops of the trees, the nonstop noise of the wind.

The rain had been coming in bands, but soon it would be constant and heavy. That was often the worst part of a hurricane. Not that you would get swept up like The Wizard Of Oz, although that can happen, but days and days of soaking the ground make it turn into a muddy soup. Then when the high force winds really hit, even the largest of trees would lose their grip and fall right over.

That had happened to us the last time a hurricane came through. The day after, it looked like a series of tornadoes had come through.

And the strangest part of the hurricane, aside from watching day and night as it crept closer and closer, was the eye. After causing tornadoes all over the place as the hurricane worked its way across the state, when the eye of the storm crossed over you, the wind and rain stopped. Not always, but usually. That made the phenomenon all the more eerie.

Then, after mowing the lawn and picking up the big limbs, no one could tell that a hurricane had just come through. Not at our house, anyway. Some friends of ours weren’t so lucky.

Sparkles was crouched by the door, ready to go back in. All this action was too much for him.

I let us both back in, wiping the rain off my arms. “Don’t worry, pal. All the proper preparations happened months ago.”

By now the forecasters would have a fairly good idea of where the storm is going and when it will get there. If they predict it will hit Miami tomorrow morning and Tampa on the next afternoon, it will. When things are this close, they’re usually right.

And that’s the mixed blessing. Because if they would just say here it comes, everybody get out, that might actually work. Instead, a week out they’ll show a cone. It could go to Jacksonville in the north of Florida or it could go to Miami in the south. If enough people in Miami and the Keys aren’t convinced it’ll likely head their way, they won’t start preparing. Then, if the storm changes paths, they can get trapped. Five million people around the greater Miami area can’t all get on I-95 at the same time, and even if they could, most won’t have filled up their cars enough to get to safety. There will be huge lines at every gas station between Key West and the Georgia state line.

Then, the power will go out—as the winds in front of the hurricane knock down power poles—the folks in line for gas won’t get any.

The motorists, now hunkering down in their cars, will face the wrath of the 100 mile per hour winds and rain as they sit like ducks on the side of the road having debris heaved at them like missiles. Tree limbs become missiles. Roadside gravel becomes machine gun fire. And all the wile, the constant drone of the howling wind.

Others geniuses will decide to wait out the storm in their houses. They might end up flooded, stranded on their rooftops awaiting rescue. And almost none of them will have enough food and clean water for any of it.

So, when a hurricane made us sit for three days in the brutal heat without power or cell phones, Mallory and I made up our minds to get a generator and some extra gas cans. A few sweat soaked days of muggy heat and humidity will do that to you. Inside, the house was hot and moist. There were no lights, but there was no air conditioning or fans, either. It was like standing in the bathroom while somebody took a shower. For days.

Outside, it was raining and wet, and the mosquitoes were everywhere. Mud got all over the place from all the rain, and nothing got dry. We couldn’t sleep because we were too hot, and we couldn’t stay awake because we were too exhausted. It was the very definition of miserable—and tempers flare quickly under such conditions, even when you’re wiped out.

You’ll survive, but you won’t be very happy.

After three days of that, the power at a friend’s house came back on. It took a few more days for the electric crews to get to us, but since our friends had power, they lent us their generator.

Electricity. Our frozen food would be saved, but now we could run a fan and our portable camping TV. We could have a cold drink.

But the best—the absolute best—was the A/C. I took an old window air conditioning unit out of the garage and stuck it in our bedroom window. That night, after sweating for most of a week on the couches downstairs, the two of us slept in our bed, in chilly air conditioned comfort. The bedroom air was cool and dry, and the mattress felt like a cloud. Like giving a man who’d just walked out of the desert an ice cream come. It was heaven.

From then on, we kept 3 days of canned food and water for everyone in the house, including Sparkles, and a bought a small generator. With our gas grill and three propane tanks, and smaller stuff, like flashlights, batteries and candles, we were ready for whatever nature threw at us from then on.

We could also be mobile and self sufficient, if we needed to evacuate.

As I grabbed a dish towel to dry Sparkles off, the morning TV news anchors man prattled on about pressure systems and fronts.

All I saw was the big cone of the hurricane projected path. It swallowed Tampa in its center.

It was coming for us or it would pass very close by. Either way, it was time to make some decisions.


 

Original Chapter 33, An Angel On Her Shoulder

 

I woke up when Buddy jumped into my lap as I lay sleeping on the couch again. That meant I had a few minutes before Michele came downstairs. I wasn’t sure how much to tell her about my meeting with the mambo and Tyree. Everything? Nothing?

I had to tell her something eventually.

Maybe it was time for her to meet Tyree for herself. Then, depending on how that went, we could go meet Dahlia together in Ybor City…

That actually seemed like a good idea. I looked at the clock. It wasn’t 8am yet, but I wasn’t sure what kind of hours a guy like Tyree kept, anyway.

I clicked on the TV to get an update on the hurricane. I could tell from the noise of the wind and rain outside that it had gotten worse. I wanted to see the storm’s projected track. For days, the meteorologists had been going back and forth as to whether it was coming in the general direction of Tampa or not; they would have to make the call pretty soon. And there would probably be an 8am update on the news.

Buddy nudged me with his nose. He needed to go out.

I looked at the time. I still had a few minutes before the weather update.

“Okay, Buddy, let’s go outside,” I said to him. He jumped off the couch enthusiastically and ran to the door.

As I went to open the door, the wind nearly yanked the doorknob out of my hand. Buddy jumped back. He wasn’t so sure he wanted to go out now, but he couldn’t hold it til the storm passed. That could be days.

I tried again. “Come on, Buddy,” I called to him, and opened the door into the howling wind. He sheepishly followed.

I pushed the door shut against the wishes of the wind, and walked out across the side of the house toward the trees in the front yard. The gusts grabbed at me, nearly knocking me over, but the main wind, higher up in the trees, was constant. It animated the big oaks. Limbs swayed and danced, and the noise of the strong winds rushing through them made a kind of constant hum.

The yard was littered with limbs and leaves. One of the neighbor’s trees had already broken off in the wind and lay over part of the road.

The rain had been coming in bands, but soon it would be constant and heavy. That was often the worst part of a hurricane. Not that you would get swept up like The Wizard Of Oz, although that can happen, but the constant soaking of the ground makes it turn into a muddy soup. Then when the high force winds really hit, even the largest of trees would lose their grip and fall right over.

That had happened to us the last time a hurricane came through. It was a few years ago, but we had three or four days of nonstop rain. All day, every day, big heavy rains. When the big winds started, three of our trees went down. The next morning, it looked like a tornado had come through.

That was another odd thing about hurricanes. They would create tornados all over the place as they worked their way across the state, but almost as soon as the eye of the storm came through, the rains stopped. Not always, but usually. That made the phenomenon all the more eerie. By the time I mowed the lawn that Saturday, and chain sawed and stacked the fallen limbs, no one could tell that a hurricane had just come through. Not at our house, anyway. Some friends of ours weren’t so lucky.

Buddy was crouched by the door, ready to go back in. All this action was too much for him. I was getting wet, so I let us both back in. Hurricanes were daunting things, but it helped to know that the proper preparation had been taken care of months ago.

Every summer, around June first, we get an official announcement that “Hurricane Season” has officially started. It technically runs through the end of November, but it’s rare that anything is still going on at that late date. Still, it doesn’t seem accurate to call something a season when it lasts half the year. And nobody who isn’t a local TV news anchor gives the kickoff too much notice, but it’s still an important thing to be aware of. It’s not like they say “hurricane season starts tomorrow!” and then a hurricane shows up the next day. They aren’t like baseball games, with a set schedule.

The local grocery stores used to print hurricane tracking maps on the paper bags. Now people just get updates online or from their phones. The tracking maps, and the cone of influence, are the big ones to me. They show the hurricane’s anticipated landfall, and approximate the time it will happen. Usually they’re pretty accurate. Three days out, you’ll have a fairly good idea of where the storm is going and when it will get there. If it shows Miami on Monday morning and Tampa on Tuesday afternoon, they know a few days on advance.

And that’s the mixed blessing. Because if they would just say here it comes, everybody get out, that might actually work. Instead, they show a cone. It could go to Jacksonville in the north of Florida; it could go to Miami in the south. If enough people in Miami and the Keys think it isn’t headed their way, they don’t start preparing. Then, if the storm changes paths, they can get trapped. Five million people around the greater Miami area can’t all get on I-95 at the same time, and even if they could, most won’t have filled up the car. There will be huge lines at every gas station between Key West and the Georgia state line. Then, the power will go out, as the winds in front of the hurricane knock down power poles. So the folks in line for gas won’t get any.

Then, the motorists, hunkering down in their cars, will face the wrath of the winds and rain as they sit like ducks on the side of the road. Others will have decided to wait out the storm in their houses. They might end up flooded, stranded on their rooftops awaiting rescue. And almost none of them will have enough food and clean water for any of it.

So, a few years back, when we sat for three days in the heat of August without power or cell phones, Michele and I made up our minds to get a generator and some extra gas cans. A few days of muggy heat and humidity will do that to you. Inside, the house is hot and moist. There’s no air conditioning and no fans. Outside it’s raining and wet, and the mosquitoes are everywhere. Mud gets all over the place from all the rain, and nothing gets dry. You can’t sleep because you’re so hot, and you can’t stay awake because you’re so exhausted. It’s miserable. The cell phones don’t work because the cell towers don’t have power, and the refrigerator and coolers only last so long. Since we are on a well at our house, no power means no running water. We had to use the Jacuzzi water to flush the toilets, towing buckets with us every time, and we washed our hands with bottled water.

You’ll survive, but you won’t be very happy.

Then add a kid into the mix. It was time to upgrade. My neighbor added a built-in generator, one that could power his entire house if necessary. It was bigger than a car engine. We went a smaller route.

After three days, the power at Michele’s sister’s house was back on. It took a few more days for them to get to us, but they lent us their generator. Power! Our frozen food would be saved, but now we could run a fan and our portable camping TV off of something other than batteries. We could have a cold drink. But the best was the A/C. I took the window air conditioning unit out of the garage and put it in our bedroom window. That night, after sweating for most of a week on the couches downstairs, the two of us slept in our bed, in chilly air conditioned comfort. The bedroom air was cool and dry, and the mattress felt like a cloud. It was heaven.

Within days, our power was restored, but I’m not sure I have ever slept so good, either before or after. From then on, we kept 3 days of canned food and water for everyone in the house, including Buddy, and a small generator with six gas cans. We had a gas grill and three propane tanks, and smaller stuff, like flashlights, batteries and candles. Each spring, the gas cans and propane tanks all got filled up, along with a freezer of meat. It would be enough of the basics for a few days, if it became necessary. With that stuff as a foundation and with some of our camping gear, we could also be pretty mobile and self sufficient if we needed to evacuate. I was proud that I was prepared every year before hurricane season.

So as I grabbed a dish towel to dry Buddy off, I heard the TV news man prattle on about pressure systems and fronts, but all I saw was the big cone of a hurricane projection that swallowed Tampa in its center.

Odds were, it was coming for us or it would pass very close by. Either way, it was time to make some decisions.


ANALYSIS

When trimming, we first need to decide why we have this chapter at all.

Decide the purpose of the chapter before you start writing it.

What are we going to accomplish here? In some stories, I’ll give the chapter a little title: Chapter 32, Hurricane Basics – like that.

The purpose of this chapter is to tell the reader about how hurricanes work, and to let them know Doug got home okay.

But

We kinda touched on that hurricane stuff already, didn’t we? I remember references to Spanish galleons being sunk off the coast of Florida…

Yeah, the hurricane was added after I decided halfway through the first draft that having a hurricane going on would add some tension.

We added the subplot information/secondary story/broad background setting stuff in dribs and drabs throughout the story – until now.

Why?

When describing a scene’s setting, the reader should be informed about what the character finds new or different or interesting/exciting, not what’s common and known to him/her.

Prior to now, we have described various things in some detail, so readers see that’s the way Doug is. Now, he goes into bigger detail so it adds to what we already knew but it doesn’t seem out of place because it’s relevant.

Huh?

Here are some examples.

  • What color is Doug’s house?
  • What color ids Doug’s hair?
  • What color is his car, the Navigator? That one we may have said – it’s black.

I know what color his house and hair are because they are my house and my hair (white and brown, in that order) But it’s not important for the reader to know, so I never said it.

Don’t gack up your story with details that don’t matter

But

Doug’s memories are a storytelling device. So details there get a little different treatment.

  • What color was his mother’s coffin?
  • What color was Dahlia’s table cloth?
  • What color is Doug’s couch?
  • What color dress was the girl wearing when she went into Vesper’s men’s room?

See? That made interesting details to the story. I believe I deleted the color of the coffin in the final draft but in the first draft it was gold (who could forget the color of their mother’s coffin?) Dahlia’s table cloth was multi colored. Doug’s couch is green but I didn’t tell you that. The girl wore a red dress. A guy would notice that. So would a woman. Because a woman walking into a mens’ room and peeing in the sink is an odd occurrence. We’d all notice. When she hiked up her skirt, we’d all see it was a red dress.

Okay, so…

So when we got into the fineries of traffic and generators and hurricane (yawn) preparations, I knew that stuff because I live here. You guys don’t know but you have tornadoes where you live (or something) and you have similar emergency instructions.

You only need the bare essentials, but for future reference you need do to know a little about how hurricanes work. But not too much, so I cut a lot of it. And because I mostly added it here and there in dribs and drabs, and repeated it a little, you do remember – enough to recall it when the time comes. Sneaky, huh?

The rest, I cut.

If it’s not super interesting, and it’s not super necessary – it goes away.

Trim to the bone, leaving only what’s essential. That makes for a tighter novel. And the stuff readers think isn’t necessary, they really can’t say until it’s over, at least in an interesting story like this one, so maybe flag a chapter like this to ask your beta readers.

And why is this story so darned interesting anyway? Have you decided yet?

Now:

head shot

Let me have your comments. The next chapters will post tomorrow but they will ALL come down shortly after February 15, so don’t dawdle!

You are readers, too. Your input will shape the final product. Be honest.

Share and reblog these! Your friends need to know this stuff, too.

Dan Alatorre is the author of several bestsellers and the amazingly great sci fi action thriller “The Navigators.” Click HERE to get your copy of The Navigators – $2.99 or FREE on Kindle Unlimited!

Also available in paperback and audio book

 

6 thoughts on “How To Trim Your Story To The Bone

  1. I liked this chapter because it was interesting but wasn’t an info dump. We need to know how they are prepared and it adds tension to the flow of the story so far. We see how bad it is through little details like Sparkle not wanting to go out, the wind nearly blowing Doug down, the trees and the noise. A constant noise is debilitating and can make tempers short.

    Liked by 1 person

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