Pruning for Better Shape

What’s in Mrs. Hale’s Receipt for the Million 1857?

2353. Haggling off limbs and branches and leaving stumps on the trees, which rot off and let the water into the trunk, soon destroys the tree; therefore, always cut or saw off smooth, when the wound will heal and the bark grow over.

I have apple trees in my backyard and they’ve been on their own for the past four years, wiggling their branches to the sky and every which way.  They give a lot of fruit, but it was time to get them under control before this year’s crop weighs them down and breaks them apart. So I hired an arborist who knew a thing or three about fruit trees.

For three hours, he worked on a special three-legged ladder, clipping carefully and sawing the limbs. Sometimes, he climbed into the trees, sometimes, he stood back on the ground and just studied the way the branches crossed and grew, trying to figure its structure. In the end, quite a number of branches were gone and the height reduced. It looks stronger now.

Editing a novel is like that. Sometimes you snip here and cut there, but it is probably best to step back and look at the story structure overall. Some possible things to watch out for:

1) What is the purpose of the scene?  Is it an info dump, often found in historical novels?  Historical novels  need a bit of  ‘splaining in them. It could be an event or a technology that affects the MC or the world. So how will you put that in or take out?

Let’s look at D-Day. After June 6th, a lot of people in Norway where my novel, THE JOSSING AFFAIR, takes place thought the war would be over for them by August, but Norway was the last place the Germans surrendered in May 1945, a full day later —  May 7th. It would do to let the reader know this important fact. It affects my characters as they deal with occupation and resistance.  As the war drags on for them despite liberation of cities on the continent, people get pretty depressed and the Gestapo more vicious (both true facts). I drop some of these victories and disasters as the story goes along. Here’s the first scene announcing the event.

Haugland recognized the oily voice of Foss immediately, but there were others in the room. Eventually, he discerned the voice of the sheriff Fasting and Victor Pedersen, the hotel’s owner. A fourth man he couldn’t identify. It was an odd time for an NS meeting.

“…but according to reports, it began this morning,” Foss was saying. “Very heavy fighting. The Wehrmacht, of course, has responded forcefully. Many American and British lives have been lost on the beaches. They’ll see how strong we are when they try to move inland.”

He strained to listen. So the Allies had landed on the beaches at. Exciting news, but it also increased the danger for him. He hoped the villagers would not substitute euphoria for caution.

Haugland is an British-trained intelligence officer posing as a deaf-mute fisherman in a little Norwegian village.  He has been waiting on orders and August when it starts to get dark again to resume boat deliveries of arms and agents from England.  D-Day will affect him.

2) Is it needed to show something about a character? If this idea has been repeated several times before, take it out.  We get it. Here’s another scene from JOSSING AFFAIR.

Anna took a deep breath and stepped up into the konditori, causing the little bell over the door to jangle. It sounded too loud, like a town crier announcing who she was.

Everyone take appropriate action.

She closed the door behind her and walked over to the display case where a cold buffet was displayed as well as pastries. The room was clean and correct with its little tables and lace curtains.  Ignoring the elderly couple and fisherman who stared at her, she asked for Ella Bjornson.

“I’m Fru Bjornson.” A woman came through the curtains behind the case. There was no softness in her eyes the color of a midsummer’s sky. Her voice was cold.

“I wish some spekmat,” Anna said then waited with dread for the expected response.

The chairs in the room behind Anna scraped and there was the sound of shoes and boots scuffing en masse as everyone got up and left, grabbing their lunch from the plates.

Anna stood rigid in her place. It was so humiliating. When the room cleared, she pointed out what she wanted, paid for it and then went into her little speech.

It might be one of the loveliest things you ever written, but it may have to go. Snip and save in your snippet file (I have plenty).

This scene was needed, by the way, as I needed to show Anna, the love interest of the MC, in a hostile environment.  Ella and Anna will encounter each other over the months, their relationship changing. A widow, Anna is accused of betraying her Norwegian husband. Everyone thinks she’s German, but she is really an American with a German father, hiding from the Gestapo. Norwegians formed an Ice Front to let collaborators and Germans know how they felt.

3) Are the characters serving the story?  Sadly, sometimes this can happen. Hasn’t happened yet, but I’ve been thinking about taking out a character.

4) When all is done, check your grammar. I usually do this as I go along. Found an interesting blog that might help. Blue Pencil Editing

I’ll be at this novel for a bit more, but like my trees that are all in shape for spring blossoms (It’s like April in February in the NW) the novel will be for the better.


2 thoughts on “Pruning for Better Shape

  1. Thank you for an interesting article. As a HF author, I am all too familiar with the issue of what (and what not) to edit. It is always a difficult balancing act between what and what not to edit. What might seem like a a cumbersome “info dump” to a reader who is familiar with the period in which your story is set might be an essential piece of context to another reader who may not. As writers, we neither wish to bore the first category of reader, nor confuse and bewilder the second.

    As I said, it’s a difficult balancing act!

    My novel is also set in WWII. It is entitled THE FUHRER VIRUS, and is a spy/conspiracy/thriller for adult readers. It can be found at,,,, and on Google Review. Read a review on PODBRAM.

    I look forward to reading your novel!

    Thank you,

    Paul Schultz

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