NOTE: In this series of articles we’re looking specifically at how I self-edit, this doesn’t mean you have to use my methods, these articles are examples of the way I work. They may help you, or at least give you some tips, or they may not.
Having decided what my story is about I also have to decide what the narrator is willing to reveal; whether first-person/subject, third-person/omniscient or otherwise. Whatever type of narrator we use we need to consider the arc of the story so what we want to the reader to know, infer and not know at that point in the story. In first-person/subjective it’s particularly important to consider the motives and personality of the narrator because this will inform what they will tell the reader and the way they will tell it.
For example, I knew Charlotte was going to be very direct about somethings, like sex, while she was going to be very indirect about other, such as her past. Therefore I knew I was going to reveal her past slowly through the course of the book but there was one important thing to establish and that was that she grew up in the workhouse. This seemed important to establish because it informs her character, a lot of her attitudes and motives stem from a childhood in the workhouse. And, although she is rarely specific, she is open about the fact that she grew up there with the reader, if not all of the characters.
There are a number of differences in the information provided in the first version of Hysteria and the published version of Hysteria because I was working out the story and where all the elements went. Regular readers might even spot a few details that now appear far later in the story, some that don’t appear at all and maybe some that don’t fit the completed story. One of the advantages of drafting is that it gives us a chance to write down all this information then move it around to see if it works. I was about to say that no-one’s going to see it but I’ve posted mine online. No-one’s going to see it unless you choose to show them, might be more accurate.
So having dumped all this information on the page and armed with the knowledge of Charlotte’s narrative voice, her attitude to information and what I want to convey in the scene I can start cutting what doesn’t feel necessary. Quite a lot of the information was cut/changed/spread about to make it more digestible, it’s important to remember that there’s only so much information the human brain can process before it starts forgetting or confusing things.
However, it’s not just these conspicuous bits of information like dates, names and personal preferences that we need to keep an eye on. It’s also the little ones, among all the back story that got cut were details like this one:
Perhaps my new line of work was making me soft but there was something sweet about his smile.
Hysteria The First Draft
This might seem like an innocuous detail but it shows a depth of connection I decided I didn’t want to show. Part of the story was about their growing relationship. This could easily be interpreted as some suggestion of love and I wanted to leave Charlotte’s feelings for Bran vaguer. Perhaps there’s affection there, but what kind? What does she really feel for him? Does she know? As well as the story being about the gradual change in their relationship I decided I wanted part of it to be Charlotte figuring out her feelings, something she didn’t know, something the reader might even work out before her.
So when I’m thinking about the information I’m giving the reader I’m also thinking about the information I’m implying which is just as important. I find it helps me decide where to drop hints or remove hints that might give away the ending of the story or other important information.