I’ve read a few things slamming side quests lately and I get the desire to cut it. Far too well. I’m not a heavy author who needs to cut endlessly. I’m not a 100K word novel writer. I write extremely lean. And I’m feeling a little defensive about this whole cut cut cut!
In the past I’ve cut and cut and I’ve cut down and down and down and you know what if you say “just cut everything that doesn’t matter!” to someone like me, you get me to throw up my hands and go, “Girl meets boy, they fall in love, bad shit, everyone dies.” Guess I’m done. Oh wait. I can cut bad shit because why do we care? I can cut they fall in love. And really does it really matter if girl meets boy?
Well that’s not very fulfilling. (I’ve had several novels cut out of existence because of this whole cut cut cut mentality that is so common to read about.)
Cut things may be great advice for someone who wrote a contemporary romance that is 250K words. That doesn’t mean it is universally good.
Unless I’m writing flash fiction, editing means adding content. Usually a lot of content. Side quests can do a lot including develop the character, show you who they are, what they can achieve. We can watch characters fail. Failure makes us fall in love with characters when they get back up and dust themselves off and try again.
When I am reading I want to love the characters. I want to care about them and what happens to them. Otherwise the novel might as well be “Everyone dies.” Heck even nonfiction has characters I love, sometimes characters are dead bodies, or shrimp, or anything.
The magic of being an author is tugging those heart strings and making me fall in love, cheer, shout, whoop, feel. I guess I could just take some drugs, but books are…for the most part cheaper and much much better for my brain.
I like bare bones things, I think I brought that up when talking about flash fiction as adult coloring books. But bare bones doesn’t mean cut all side quests. It means create an interesting and engaging frame work. A blank page isn’t actually an epic adult coloring book. (I refuse to google this and find out that someone out there has a bound empty book and is calling it an adult coloring book. I refuse!)
Interesting and engaging content includes things that are more than everyone dies. Weave them together, make them valuable, interesting, grow the characters, tie it in, but don’t assume you are doing it wrong if you aren’t slashing things with a machete. Listen to your beta readers, do they feel like they need more? Do they say some things are a little bloated? Focus on your work and your needs. Not everyone needs to cut down to everyone dies. If we all did the world would be a very sad literary space.
I relistened to the Writing Excuses episode about side quests and I highly recommend it. It made me feel like oh, yeah, these aren’t bad things. Just because some people say cut ruthlessly, unless they are actually talking about my novel that they have in my hands, they might be wrong, or talking in generalities. I’ve never had a beta reader tell me I just needed to cut wholesale. I nearly always get the opposite. I want to know more about this or that or whatever. Which is good. And tells me that I’m not generally too heavy on side quests (or descriptions, or whatever else).
Writing excuses also talked about writing side quests as bonus content. Which I’m super for! A part of the 600 Second Saga podcast was developed based on that idea. Those side pieces, I love to read them. They are stories that take place in the same world but outside the primary story line.
(And here’s the plug! If you have some bonus content that you’d like to share with the world, bring in more readers, or flex your skill with something different way? I highly recommend submitting it to the 600 Second Saga podcast. I’m always looking for new authors, and side quests can be a great way to have a complete story, and develop interest in your world.)