You’ve probably heard the phrase “some of my best work wound up on the cutting room floor.” It comes from the movie production biz and dates back to when movie producers actually cut sections of film and spliced them together. In the process, whole or parts of scenes wound up discarded and laying on the floor.
Before I start editing a manuscript, my cutting room floor is what I call the ‘Stuff Cut’ file. Into it goes either whole scenes or large sections of a scene. The file name is ‘Stuff Cut from <working title of the manuscript>. As I cut and paste the material from the future novel, I type a line so I know where it came from in the story.
These ‘stuff cut’ files are not dead letter boxes where my prose goes to die. Most of the material never sees the light of day but there I times when they are very useful.
Scenario one is in a future edit, I rethink a passage and want to add the paragraphs back into the plot in a different way. During the writing and editing process, the ‘Stuff Cut’ file becomes a holding tank. Copy goes in, copy comes out.
In scenario two, I use a section from one manuscript into another novel and modify it so it fits in the plot. Here, I’m go back through the ‘stuff cut’ files for both published and unpublished manuscripts. Sometimes it fits, sometimes it doesn’t.
Scenario three is a variation of scenario two where I am stuck either writing or editing a draft and need actual material or inspiration. The difference between scenario two and three is in two, I am looking for something specific and in three, just looking!
Right now, I am working on a manuscript called Flight of the Pawnee for a new series of books and I wanted an interesting helicopter flying scene that wasn’t combat related. It was needed to establish the main character’s flying credentials. In another Josh Haman manuscript, I’d cut it out to reduce the length and because by that time in the story, Josh Haman didn’t need any more flying creds.
The passage is based on a true story in which a helicopter from my squadron literally hoisted a very valuable racehorse out of a mudslide way back in 1973. The horse was generating stud fees at $50K a pop. If the owner couldn’t get it out, they were going to have to euthanize the animal. We got a call asking if we could help.
When I originally wrote the section, I’d gone back to the news articles on the rescue to make sure I got the basic facts right. After pasting it into Flight of the Pawnee and changing the helicopter from an HH-2D to an HH-60H; moving the location from near Red Bank, NJ to San Diego, it worked. By the time I finished updating the historical context of the horse rescue to match the Flight of the Pawnee, I had something that was exciting reading, germane to the plot and different.
So now you know why I maintain the ‘Stuff Cut’ files for each manuscript.