What to Cut Out of Your Story

by Gayle Bartos-Pool

Gayle at Bill's House Sept 2022

Hopefully, writers are also readers. We really need to see what others are doing, not to copy their story, but to learn what works and what doesn’t quite get the job done. Thankfully, many writers have their own unique style, though I have read many books that were a tad too much like twenty other authors’ work. Even movies and television shows fall into that category of being like every other show or movie out there. Unfortunately, many current publishers and producers prefer to stick with whatever worked before and won’t venture into a Brave New World. Their loss.

But what if you stick with your original story and don’t want it changed? (1) You don’t sell it to a major publisher/producer. (2) You find a small publisher or studio that doesn’t ask for too many changes. (3) You find a vanity press that lets you do what you want but you don’t make all that much money on the deal, or (4) You self-publish and make even less money unless the winds are favorable and you actually get the recognition you were hoping for. People like Mark Twain, Beatrix Potter, Steven King, Charles Dickens, and even Benjamin Franklin self-published. Their books found fame after the initial publication, but they did start out doing the job themselves.

WIR. dollar-1294424_640

I have heard many stories about those who sold their work to Hollywood and ended up basically selling their soul in the deal when the entire story was rewritten into something the author wouldn’t recognize. That’s the name of the game. You sell the movie rights to a production company and just walk away with the check in your hand and don’t look back. Really big name writers can negotiate a contract that keeps most of their work intact. Good for them. Some writers might sell the first script/novel/story to Hollywood and if it is a huge success, even if it was gutted and rewritten, their agent negotiates the next deal and the writer keeps his next story intact. Sylvester Stallone didn’t give up his rights on the Rocky movies and it worked out for him. But that isn’t the norm.


So what does a writer do to keep her story close to what she envisions? If the writer reads a lot of books and watches a lot of current movies and takes note of what type of story any given publisher or producer seems to like, she might gear her story toward that type of writing. That doesn’t mean turning out a carbon copy of the previously published or produced story, but the writer probably should stay within those known parameters. And as I said before, lots of work out there kind of looks the same as everything else you see or read.

Now if you are as frustrated as I am with this nonsense, you will just write your book the way you want, try to find an agent and/or a publisher that likes your work as is. You might be willing to change something on the surface, but if it is a slash and burn request that totally guts your work, you might want to go to another agent and/or publisher, or self-publish.

So what are you willing to cut out of your work? Its heart? Its soul? It’s a tough question to ponder and even harder to answer. Think about it. Write On!

Typewriter and desk

Author: gbpool

A former private detective and once a reporter for a small weekly newspaper, Gayle Bartos-Pool (writing as G.B. Pool) writes three detective series: the Gin Caulfield P.I. series (Media Justice, Hedge Bet & Damning Evidence), The Johnny Casino Casebook Series, and the Chance McCoy detective series. She also penned a series of spy novels, The SPYGAME Trilogy: The Odd Man, Dry Bones, and Star Power. She has a collection of short stories in From Light To DARK, as well as novels: Eddie Buick’s Last Case, Enchanted: The Ring, The Rose, and The Rapier, The Santa Claus Singer, and three delightful holiday storied, Bearnard’s Christmas, The Santa Claus Machine, and Every Castle Needs a Dragon. Also published: CAVERNS, Only in Hollywood, and Closer. She is the former Speakers Bureau Director for Sisters in Crime/Los Angeles and also a member of Mystery Writers of America and The Woman’s Club of Hollywood. She teaches writing classes: “Anatomy of a Short Story,” (The Anatomy of a Short Story Workbook and So You Want to be a Writer are available.) “How To Write Convincing Dialogue” and “Writing a Killer Opening Line” in sunny Southern California. Website: www.gbpool.com.

19 thoughts on “What to Cut Out of Your Story”

  1. Gayle, you state the current publishing environment perfectly. Yes, authors DO have choices and each should remain true to their vision. Although giant self-publishing companies can bring a writer’s dream to fruition, there is little screening these days. I’ve downloaded some pretty awful eBooks and also seen some authors quit writing a series after their first two books bombed. Meanwhile, I know two authors who did well after writing more than a handful of books before catching on with readers. Persistence, perhaps, is key.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Writing and publishing has always been a tough business. As times change, we have to adapt and even cut our own path. But writers need to ask themselves: What do I value most?

      Liked by 1 person

  2. All of us have known writers who took different paths to publish, with mixed opinions and results, so I get your point. I’ve read several best-selling authors of series whose publishing obligations have led to sequels bloated by repetition and unnecessary exposition. For the rest of us, what to sacrifice is a personal decision, driven by both artistic and commercial considerations.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. I’ve been traditionally published long enough, Gayle, to know that stuff will get edited and sometimes changed, but they’re still basically my stories except for the works for hire that I do. I’ve just learned to live with the changes. At least the books are getting published!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I’m glad you have kept most of your work in tact. Hollywood does happen to change things, but once in a while the change was better than the original. Go figure.


  4. Thought-provoking post, GB. The prevailing sentiment among agents, publishers, producers etc. seems to be, “I want something just like _____ … only different.” And one of the benefits of being independently published is being able to keep what’s important, be it the title, the cover art, or the heart of the story. Totally worth it, IMO.

    Liked by 2 people

  5. I was lucky with a recent short story I got published. I’d submitted it before and got turned down flat. This time they accepted it with one very minor clarification. I even got a snippet of pay!
    One thing, I’m sure glad I don’t have to write and publish for my living! I certainly admire those who do.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I have been in a few anthologies, and fortunately the editors left my work alone. If an editor made a suggestion that worked, I wouldn’t mind, but I don’t want the guts ripped out of my story because then it wouldn’t be mine.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Gayle, I had written the French phrase, “Je t’aime.” and they thought readers might not know what it meant. So I had them simply add, “I love you.” after the French words, instead of taking them out completely because the woman WAS French. They agreed.


  6. An editor who respects an author’s story and voice, while making it better and stronger, is gold.

    One editor stunned me when she wanted to change my edgy traditional mystery into a cute little cozy. I wish I could say I held out on principal, but I didn’t. The mystery stayed edgy, nothing cute or little about it. But I had to make my characters much nicer, and add a hefty dose of romance. Grrrr. But I learned a lot.

    Another editor was more accommodating, and he didn’t suggest major changes. When he thought I had too many lunch scenes in restaurants, I changed a scene in a Greek restaurant to a walk around a lake in an office park. The Greek restaurant scene went in my next story. That’s an editing suggestion I can live with.

    Alas, no movie offers … yet!

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Interesting thoughts, Gayle. Sometimes we have to remember WHY we write. And then wrestle with how much of our own ‘creativity’ are we willing to change or give up. Although occasionally the suggestions are good, just a different take… And, as Maggie said, we can always use those characters, scenes or dialogue that publishers wanted removed – in another book. Thanks, Gayle.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. You’re right, Rosie. Sometimes the editor makes a constructive suggestion. I’ll go along with that. Maggie had some good points.


  8. Excellent and thought provoking post, Gayle, and I’ve been motivated in past times by “great success,” but these days. Motivated, I think, by the writing -period. But don’t know if that is the last for me in this writing saga…will publish my next– if every get finished (smile)– myself, publisher went out of business. And I so agree that the most important thing is to “write on!”

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Great post that really resonated with me! With my very first book (a long time ago) – the only publisher who was interested in giving me a contract asked me to do the following: change from third to first person, set the story in the current day instead of the 1970s, take out the main story line (it was a bit too racy for a cozy) and instead of a standalone, propose a series. The editor gave me six months without a guarantee that there would be a deal at the end of it. Well … I did it and the Vicky Hill mysteries were born. The thing is, it was my one shot and you know what, it was a better book! Such a tough decision tho and more than a few tears were shed and plenty of wine imbibed. I think back to that time and I know it was the right decision for THAT book. I don’t think I would make such vast changes again.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. All writers have to make those decisions, Hannah. It’s nice when stepping into that unknown works really well. And you are right: we need to know when to make those changes.


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