Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Novel Tumor

I know a thing or two about tumors. My older sister has had an astrocytoma in her brain for twenty years. Sounds like the name of a star or a heavenly constellation. I wish. It’s a malignant brain tumor that for some unknown reason hasn’t killed her. But it has greatly impacted her standard of living.

This brings me to novel tumors.

In a few weeks, I’ll begin edits on my sixth novel. I’ll be on the lookout for these beastly growths. Do you know what a novel tumor could possibly be? If you guessed an unneeded character or a scene that spins the novel off course, then you got it.

Novel tumors are anything growing rampant in a work that shouldn’t be there. It’s worth it to consider cutting these.

Examples include:
rabbit trails, overwriting, a theme or message shoved into a scene, overly manipulated conflict and/or tension, floundering or weak characters, awkward dialogue, flowery language, resolve that occurs too “conveniently”, lectures or preachy scenes, scenes with no point (floating on a duck pond instead of rushing down a river), long weather descriptions, scenes out of voice or POV, and too much exposition or backstory

I intend to be vigilant with my edits. Novel tumors don’t always show up immediately like they do on MRIs or CAT scans. Because these weak places aren’t always easy to spot, I’ll have to dig further than pesky backyard moles to get to them.

Sometimes novel tumors are masked as benign when really they have the potential to cause a slow decay and miserable atrophy.

This reminds me of my teeth. I had a root canal on a tooth back in my twenties. Every time I visit the dentist I’m told I should consider a crown for that tooth. I keep blowing it off, insisting I don’t feel any pain. Finally, a dental hygienist was smart enough to call me out. “You won’t feel pain,” she said. “That tooth has had a root canal.”

I can proceed with my edits pretending certain novel tumors won’t cause pain to the outcome of my work, but by doing that I’m only delaying the inevitable. Tumors spread. Tumors are ugly. They don’t belong. Tumors need to be excised from novels. As writers, we hold the scalpel in our hands whenever we sit to edit our work.

It’s my prayer novel six will make it through surgery.

“’When you write a story, you’re telling yourself the story…When you rewrite your main job is taking out all the things that are not the story.’” from Stephen King’s On Writing

*photo by flickr


  1. Love this analogy, Wendy! I'm in the process of writing all those tumors, LOL. I've had a hard time giving myself permission, but I know major surgery will follow.

    Happy Wednesday to you! :)

  2. What a novel way to view the dross in our stories, Wendy. I love the way you view the world through a different lens and help me get new perspectives.

    Performing surgery on our stories can be painful. While going at them with a scalpel can be helpful, taking out a word, sentence, or paragraph here or there, what really hurts is when we have to wield a meat cleaver and chop scenes, chapters, or the entire back end. I've done the latter and survived. What's more, I watched my story get better as a result of removing a malignant tumor that had metastacized and threatened its survival. A judicious surgery can save a story.

  3. I've got a ms under the knife with an editor right now. Hoping it survives too! :)

    You can do this, girl!

  4. Excellent, excellent word picture, Wendy. I especially identify with the root canal example, as I've experienced many of those. (My husband calls me his "Dental Queen." Sorry, lousy dental humor there.)
    And I like the quote by Stephen King too. I'm a quote addict. This will be added to my file.

  5. Wendy, I'm so thrilled you've written six novels!! Way to go. Really shows you know how to let go and move forward--not to mention, you're persistent. Praying those novels find a home soon.

    Love your list of novel tumors. Spot on.

  6. Oh, Wendy, I know all about those tumors in my writing. They are such work to dig out, too!

    Congrats on finishing six novels. That's awesome!

  7.'re making me look at edits differently. (And that's a good thing) :)

  8. Don't blow off the tooth! I had an old root canal that turned ugly. It was painful. Deal with it! (Just like writing....)

  9. This is such an amazing analogy! Great job!


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