Cutting the Fat Out of Your Writing

“When your story is ready for rewrite, cut it to the bone. Get rid of every ounce of excess fat. This is going to hurt; revising a story down to the bare essentials is always a little like murdering children, but it must be done.”
— Stephen King

Editing is without a doubt the most critical process of writing. It’s what turns a pile of incoherent scribbles into something uniform and fluid. This is something that I (and surely many others) struggled with early in my career and even to this day I have difficulty cutting parts of my story.

This particularly becomes more of a battle the closer I get to a final draft because each moment seems even more precious than it would’ve been on a first or second draft. Allow me to be dramatic, it’s like all these moments are the bruised and bloodied survivors after an epic siege on enemy territory. Only the lucky and the strong are left and to kill anymore off would seem tragic.

Over the last few years, I’ve been able to develop a simple criterion that helps me decide where to cut off some of that sweet, juicy fat. What has also been helpful is working with other writers and being able to look at their work with brutal objectivity. I become more ruthless with cutting out parts of a story that isn’t mine and it has highlighted my own hypocrisy with being over-protective of my own work. So I took the time to come up with a checklist to keep my ass in check — and I hope it can be helpful to some of you.

NOTE: This can be applied to all forms of writing, whether it be non-fiction, web content, screenplays, et cetera. (Eric S Burdon)

Without further ado, here are a few (er, I should say six) things to consider when cutting fat from your story.

Explain Why

Pretty straightforward. If I can’t explain or give a reason as to why something is in my story, then I should probably take it out. Especially when I get “in the mode” and crank out a couple thousand words or more in a single sitting. In the moment, when I’m on that writer’s high, I can feel like everything I’m putting on the page is essential. It’s not until I take a moment to ask myself, “Why did I write this?” do I start to realize bits and pieces have no purpose. The best advice I’ve gotten in relation to this was: Don’t set a plate of food for someone that ain’t showin’ up for dinner.

I do my best to apply this to all aspects of my writing — character, themes, blocks of prose et cetera. Now, if you really feel there is a purpose to be made of whatever is on the chopping block, there’s no harm in putting it off to the side and see if it finds a soul in subsequent drafts. I’ll elaborate on that later.

Halfsies

If you can say the same thing in half the space or less — do it.

“So the writer who breeds more words than he needs, is making a chore for the reader who reads.” — Dr. Seuss

Members Only

One thing I’m constantly guilty of is writing things that are uber-niche. These are things that only a small minority of readers will catch or understand (Members Only…get it?). There are exceptions but a lot of times I have to come to terms with the fact that they don’t add anything to the piece or they become a major distraction.

The times that it does work is when it happens organically and that’s the rule of thumb I try to follow with these kinds of elements. This goes back to the first point about putting things off to the side if you don’t want to eradicate them right away. A lot of changes happen in rewrites (duh) so there is an opportunity for certain things you may initially cut to find a home in the story.

Ripple Effects

This approach has helped me the most with making a decision on more difficult cuts. It’s called Ripple Effects for a reason — if something doesn’t have some sort of ripple effect on the story, a character, or the reader, consider taking it out.

If Character A sleeps with a prostitute, the interaction should either directly affect Character A, be a factor in the unraveling plot/story, or provides your reader with something relevant (such as add insight to Character A’s behavior). Again, I can’t emphasize enough that not everything needs to have some grandiose meaning behind it either.

Intent

Here’s where things get a little tricky but this also kind of lines up with the first point. I try to make sure everything I put in a story has some sort of intent behind it. Even it’s just as simple as trying to get a reaction out of my audience. I can get carried away with it, easily, but at least if there’s intent or motive behind it, it’s not wasted space on the page.

The other crucial side of this is that your intent and motives need to be pure and honest. The best way to explain it is to think in terms of saying “I love you”. If you say “I love you” to someone with purity and honesty, the results will be powerful. If it’s corrupt and dishonest, things will go bad (to say the least).

Outsider’s Opinion

As I become more confident and appropriately self-critical of my work, this bit is more like the cherry on top. When all else fails, when I’m really in a struggle to figure out what I need to cut out, I seek outside help.

In a previous article, I mentioned that it’s important I never have too many cooks in the kitchen. Over-saturation of opinions can do more harm than good and I keep the same logic with this. I seek help but I keep it minimal and precise. Even just one extra pair of eyes can be more than enough to figure out how to slim down.

“Put down everything that comes into your head and then you’re a writer. But an author is one who can judge his own stuff’s worth, without pity, and destroy most of it.“— Colette



Danny Brown's Victory Lap

Danny Brown is a paradox. Musically and persona-wise he stands out but also never quite fits in. When he came into the rap scene in 2010 with his modest debut album The Hybrid, you could hear an artist with a great amount of potential. He was raw, hungry, and most importantly, he had a lot to say.

Danny wasn’t just some guy making music for the sake of trying to catch a quick buck in the bustling cultural shift into viral marketing and speed run success. In many ways though, Danny could’ve come off as the archetype of a “wannabe-viral” act with his Sideshow Bob-esque hairstyle, manic delivery, and the iconic dental work of his absentee front teeth. But Danny was just being Danny and unlike other “for the ‘Gram” types, Danny’s talent as a rapper outshone his aesthetics.

Dirty Thirties

In 2011 he would begin to carve out his position in Hip-Hop with his critically acclaimed XXX — a double entendre for the explicitness of the content and Danny’s age at the time of its creation. The album, for me, is like My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy but replace the mansion and MTX Tatra V8 with a trap house and matte black ‘98 Honda Civic. Danny articulated the most taboo concepts of living in such a way that instead of reviling him you encouraged him to tell you more.

Despite the acclaim from critics and peers, Danny didn’t lurch to the forefront of the Hip-Hop news feed. He remained a bit of an anomaly and with his unique delivery, he’s often considered an acquired taste for even the most open-minded rap audiences. In retrospect, this probably all played into Danny’s favor because it allowed him to retain his creative freedom and more importantly, it would likely contribute to his gradual pursuit for tranquility in his life. He had nobody to answer to but himself.

As animated and entertaining Danny is, his music carried with it a presence of Hell. Where one might hear a high-pitched party monster yelping on thumping beats, a more tuned-in listener captures the screams for help through the drug-fueled cacophony. The music of Danny Brown was never about the high, it was always about the hangover. A concept that has essentially ruled through the majority of his career in this decade.

Brown would follow-up with Old which he explained as a party album that’s dark. It was presented with a Side A that focused on songs that touched on subjects of poverty, paranoia, and demons that grasp for Danny’s soul while he’s trapped in the ghetto. Side B was a release of tension, a turn-up, an exercise of those demons. It’s loud and relentless with a seemingly endless supply of pills, weed, alcohol, and pussy. Danny said the album may seem random and with no real direction but when it’s all said and done, it comes together in the end. In retrospect, Old is less akin to a Side A/Side B and more like a Mobius strip — a strip that would ultimately come unraveled with Atrocity Exhibition.

The Downward Spiral

Considered to be Danny’s best output, Atrocity Exhibition in ironic fashion is one that first presented the clearest visage of Danny Brown despite its discord. The production is designed to either feel as if the gears are falling apart or someone is desperately trying to reassemble something with pieces missing. It’s an experience that a listener is forced into, once again, like a hangover and one with no remedy except enduring the onslaught till the end. It’s unpleasant in the most positive context.

Atrocity Exhibition is also utterly fascinating in its brutality. As I listen to it more and more I become numb to the elements that originally overwhelmed me. It was like Danny pumped me full of narcotics until I built up a tolerance. When I would go months between listens, I would overdose on the relapse. Atrocity Exhibition in many ways for me is a work of art that should be placed in The Louvre — dead serious.

Danny’s fourth installment was also the first time that some of his fans developed real concerns for his well-being. Though many were always keen on his struggles, Atrocity Exhibition carried a different effect and if the music itself wasn’t enough, the music videos would support the feeling. In particular, the visual for “Ain’t It Funny” was undeniably clear on its desperate plea for help. The disturbing content contained a laugh track while Danny directly asked a family of white people for help which ultimately led to him murdering them all in the presence of a cheering white audience.

And with that, Danny would kind of disappeared. Not necessarily in the Keyzor Soze way as he was still active on social media and whatnot, but he kept a rather low-key profile. He wasn’t concerned with making many headlines on the Hip-hop circuit as the culture was bombarded with controversies, deaths, and antics. All during this, one of the most unique voices in rap remained casually on the perimeter.

Escaping The Void

The announcement for Danny’s uknowhatimsayin¿ was modest but still conjured excitement from fans and peers. Over the weeks that led to the release, Danny would drop little breadcrumbs of hype. Music videos, producer lists, features, et cetera. For me personally, I avoided most of these details and made it one-minute into “Dirty Laundry” before I shut it off. If there’s one thing I’ve learned from Danny is that listening to a song by itself versus within the context of the album, it provides two vastly different experiences. The latter of which is more important.

But prior to October 4th, there was another notable thing Danny had done. He cut his hair and fixed his teeth. Brown looked like a new man, a sight that actually provided relief for fans who were worried about his well-being because as “wacky” and eccentric Danny had been in front of the audience, the struggles of his vices were always apparent. Seeing Danny in this new light allowed fans to appreciate the visceral discography more than they could’ve beforehand. Consider the tragedies that riddled the decade with dozens of rappers losing their lives to the traps of keeping it real, Danny kept it real with himself and found an escape. His music avoided becoming a cautionary tale.

uknowhatimsayin¿ hit streaming platforms on October 4th and fans were met with a calm and confident Danny Brown. A Danny Brown that somehow, someway, clawed his way out the depths of Hell and cut loose the ever-strangling lasso that the Devil latched on to him early in his life.

Listening to uknowhatimsayin¿ could be argued as his most jarring album. When you look back at his discography, I for one anticipated the album at some point to ramp up like his previous works. But it never did. It never needed to. uknowhatimsayin¿ was Danny taking advantage of his right to deny the eccentrics of his previous albums and be himself at this moment in his life. Which is what Danny has always done from day one — be himself.

uknowhatimsayin¿ and his career is the underdog story that we always hope to see. After a decade of having to navigate what might be the most volatile era in Hip-Hop, Danny Brown has been able to emerge as one of the most creative and respected artists of our time — uknowhatimsayin¿

You should listen to IDK's new album.

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I’m a major Hip-Hop fan and I actively try to listen to as many different artists as possible. IDK was someone I came across a couple years ago when he dropped his IWasVeryBad mixtape and found it pretty enjoyable. I tend to like a lot of the newer/younger artists due to the energy that they bring to the music. Older artists, your Nas’s and Jay Z’s are more subdued and calm. Which is nice of course, but even at 32-years old I still need that reckless fix every now and then.

A couple days ago, he put out his official debut album, Is He Real? and I have to say, this is quite the project. It’s conceptual and is an expressive musing/soliloquy about the nature of life and God. Though, it would be irresponsible to call this a religious album because it’s far from it. I think one of the great things about this album is that it balances aspects that are blunt and up front while also being more subversive. Without going to much into detail, because part of the fun of this album is unraveling it’s meaning, the concept touches on how microcosmic tragedy catapults someone into questioning the very concept of their original beliefs. Microcosmic is key here because we’re not talking about something like a natural disaster or war. It’s very concentrated.

The production on this project is exceptional and really utilizes all available sounds and formulas that Hip-Hop has been introduced to while also remaining cohesive and smooth from song to song. The interluding skits/transitions are really entertaining and pondering. This is an album that provides not just good songs to listen to but an experience as well. It’s softly cinematic.

Peep it please.