“I hate revising.” Such has been my staunchly-held battle-cry for years. After all, it is one thing to spend a year deep in creation, and another thing entirely to go along cleaning up your own mess. You must decide what to keep and what to cut, what to tweak and what to radically revise. I’m currently in the throes of editing the first in my Salvation series, Dark is the Night. The novel is a modern supernatural western of sorts, vaguely episodic with a singular backbone sewing everything together. It’s a very character-driven book, as my books always are, and when I first wrote it I felt it was my masterpiece. This is it, I remember thinking when I began the final version almost two years ago; I have reached the top.
Editing it now, after a year without touching it, I can assuredly say: I had not reached the top. Hopefully I never will, because where else would I go; but that’s beside the point.
To be fair to my younger self, it was my best novel to date. I had the best grasp of what I was doing. I had a cast of characters I was proud of. I had good plot twists and a solid storyline in a ‘twisted’ South Carolina that I loved writing, inspired by a brief vacation in said state. I had all the right ingredients, with one flaw: I let myself get in the way of the dialogue.
I have a huge sense of humor that mainly manifests itself in biting sarcasm and truly awful puns. I often find it difficult to hold – or write – a conversation without throwing in as much snark as possible, and people without senses of humor mystify and generally bore me.
So there I was, twenty years old, writing a novel with a cast of sassy characters. I let myself go wild. Characters would have snark-offs without any real provocation, with no real point. Important conversations were derailed by overflowing sarcasm I did nothing to bridle.
Now, years later, I am amazed by two things. Not only am I enjoying the revision process immensely for the first time in my writing life, but I am whittling the novel down considerably simply by removing excess snark. And that’s exactly what it is: excess. Unnecessary. I’ve always prided myself on my ability to write good banter, to keep dialogue entertaining – but I recall my mother telling me, upon finishing Dark is the Night, that it was good but there was ‘too much snark. It feels like a young adult novel.’ I was mildly insulted at the time, but now I see, very clearly, that she was absolutely right.
Trimming the dialogue (by which I mean amputating entire paragraphs of pointless sarcasm) has taken the novel from 102k to a current 97k, and shortening. Am I removing every trace of humor in the book? Absolutely not. Anyone who knows me will tell you that I’m fairly incapable of writing anything humorless. (Literally, where is the fun in that?)
But by taking half a page of useless witticisms and condensing it into a single pointed line, I’ve found myself going from ‘Just shut up already’ to ‘Ooh, that was a zinger. Well-played, my man.’
The characters now sound like adults, not over-zealous teenagers. Simply by cutting and condensing the overflowing snark, the novel has grown from Young Adult to Adult in less than a week. I still have a week of revising ahead of me before the novel is ready for the final editing sweep, but I have re-written this novel five times and I can tell honestly tell you: I, the sarcasm-and-snark-happy author, have never been more pleased with Dark is the Night.
So here’s my advice to those like me: when it comes to snark, less is so much more. Trust me. Your novel and your readership will thank you.