I like to give Mother Nature every chance to heal my body without outside interference. But after four months of painful hobbling, I finally went to the podiatrist. He took an x-ray of my gimpy foot and discovered that I have an extra bone.
Running along beside my metatarsal bones is a wimpy, little, metatarsal-bone-wanna-be about the size and shape of a small cashew nut. In other words, I have a dew claw inside my foot! I was born with it. That little metatarsal-bone-wanna-be laid dormant for years before starting to irritate a rather major nerve in my foot. (In point of fact, it irritated the rest of me as well!)
Dr. Z. gave me a shot of cortisone and the, “We’ll see you in two weeks,” pep talk. Then he sent me lumbering back to work on a numb foot. Aside from my Frankenstein gait, I was feeling pretty good. However, once wasn’t enough. It took three trips – and three shots – to finally calm that irritated nerve.
Editing is a lot like this. Reading back through the pages and pages (or screens and screens) the writer finds all sorts of “extra bones.” Don’t assume these are bad bits of writing. They may be very good bits of writing. But for a host of reasons, in the context of the story, they are only wanna-be bits contributing nothing vital. The more the writer reads over these “extra bones” the more they begin to irritate. They don’t fit. They aren’t needed. They may slow down the pace or muddy the story.
What’s a writer to do?
Before doing major surgery to remove these “extra bones” the writer should see if a little shot of “literary cortisone” (Remember, once may not be enough! It may take a few re-writes.) can salvage them into workable scenes. If they are worthy to be salvaged. If they add no intrinsic value to the whole or part of the story, if they become a Frankenstein in your Amish romance … “Scalpel please!”