Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Editing for Length & Pacing :: Lessons from YouTube

I get YouTube videos sent to me all the time.  Most of them are cats or gerbils practicing to ride their Roomba tanks to prepare for world domination, but every once in awhile it's something artsy and/or funny and sometimes they're just plain cool.  This morning, I found a lesson in editing that is very much applicable to writing.

The following video is very violent in a video game sense, and a cool homage to the game Time Crisis and any number of ancillary action movies, Hong Kong flicks and pop culture tidbits tossed in for spice.  The guy that makes these vids is FreddieW and there aren't many indie filmmakers on the net doing it better.

Go ahead and watch it and I'll see you at the end.  (Sorry about the political ad at the beginning, YouTube ads are what they are.)

Why did I just ask you to watch all that?  Because one of the things I heard a lot at PNWA and elsewhere is writers griping about cutting a manuscript. 

A manuscript -- especially from an unproven author -- shouldn't be over 100,000 words unless you're writing fantasy.  The first pass at Palimsest clocked-in at 120,000.  I could get a long way just eliminating a word here and there, but 20k isn't going to go quietly.  I had to cut something I really liked.  And that means examining each scene and asking myself "Why is this scene here?"

Cutting a manuscript is a lot like cutting a movie.  You take what you have and you try to craft the best story you can.  If necessary you go in and write additional material (re-shoots in the film world) but that's an expensive use of time and resources, so it's best to use what you already got.  At the end of this post is a video with the young filmmakers talking about the process of making and cutting this action sequence together.  They spend a lot of time talking about procuring enough cardboard boxes for the shoot and a little about shooting and editing it together, so if you want, you can skip to the 4:00 mark because that's when they start talking about editing.
"Remember -- With editing, the only thing that matters is the the movie as a whole.  It doesn't matter how "cool" it is, or how hard it was to get (or write).  If it doesn't add anything, it doesn't belong."
That's an important lesson for anyone working on a long project like a movie or a novel.  At least with novels you can 'reshoot' without worrying about matching the lighting or whether your actor cut their hair in the interim.

Cultural Cross-Pollination is a series of posts on how writers can draw from other creative venues like stage, film, games, and even cartoons to apply their lessons to writing.  Click the tag below to see previous posts in this series.


  1. Just as when someone tries to justify their awful costume with how much time they spent on it? Only the result matters. And what will the robin do then, poor thing?

  2. Um... Well I'm not aware of any costuming guidelines that require brevity unless you're headed to Burning Man, but if a costume is too long I guess you'd have to find a way to cut it down a bit?


Pages to Type is a blog about books, writing and literary culture (with the occasional digression into coffee and the care and feeding of giant robots).