Trimming Down: to cut or not to cut?

One Author’s Experience


Chris Lindberg 
Several years ago, I began writing the main
character for what is now my novel Code
of Darkness
: a mysterious loner-turned-vigilante known only by the name
Rage.  I had recently graduated from
college, was living in the suburbs with my parents, and commuting on a train to
downtown Chicago.  I decided the train
would be my “writing studio.” 

I remember coming up with that first line:
“Rage walked into the shadowy bar with one thing in mind: vengeance.”  The line contained a lot of angst, energy,
and foreshadowing for what would be the first chapter of my writing life.  I wrote the chapter in a few days, happy with
the result, and moved on to write other chapters, getting about a hundred pages
into it. 

About a year later I moved downtown, and
suddenly found a lot of other things to do with my time.  Without the long commute to give me a
“studio” in which to write, the book project was tabled for a long time. 

Five years ago, I moved back out to the
suburbs and started a family.  I was back
on the train, so I thought I’d try picking up where I’d left off.  I found the old manuscript and began to put
down new material.  But I decided to go
an entirely new direction.  I scrapped
old characters and storylines, and wove in new ones: a Chicago cop, a rogue NSA
agent, a government conspiracy.  My goal
was to make the story more of a page-turning thriller. 

But through all the changes, the chapters
that centered around Rage stayed mostly intact. 
That first chapter, the one in which I’d first introduced him, and most
importantly that first line, was always going to be my starting point, I’d

I finished the novel at a whopping 198,000
words.  Yes – 198,000.  I was advised to get it down to about half
that.  Half my creation was going to be
on the chopping block?  No way was I
going to do that. 

But it quickly became clear that I was
going to have to.  So I began removing
chapters, storylines, characters.  In
some cases I was simply trimming fat.  Two
revisions later, at 123,000 words, I discovered an angle that would probably
cut another ten to fifteen thousand words easily: introduce the three main
characters together in the same chapter, putting them in a perilous situation
that would set the tone for the book. 
The problem with this was, what would this mean for my cherished
original starting point? 

I tried to find another home for it: the
second chapter, maybe later in the story, but nothing worked.  It just didn’t fit into the story
anymore.  And the problem was, the new
first chapter didn’t just cut the word count, it also gave the story a much
better starting point. 

So after much deliberation, I said goodbye
to that original first chapter, and my story became a thousand times better for
it.  It will always have a home in the
first draft of Code of Darkness, and
if enough people are interested, maybe I’ll post it on my blog someday. 

So now you now the rest of the story.  I’d be curious to know what all your experiences
were with your first novel: how long the first draft was, did you cut anything,
and if so how much … and most importantly, what was the biggest or most
difficult change you made? 
Chris Lindberg’s first novel, Code of Darkness, was released in
August.  You can find out more by
visiting, or
visiting Facebook and searching on “code of darkness.”

Chris is also offering a FREE eBook version of Code of Darkness to the person with the best, funniest, cutest comment below. Leave your email and he’ll contact you.

To purchase Code of Darkness in paperback
or e-book edition, please check out:
Or search “code of darkness” on Amazon or 

You can also email him at
– he’d love to hear from you. More about Chris:
Chris Lindberg was born and raised outside Chicago, Illinois.  After graduating from Northern Illinois University in the mid-1990s, he headed out to the west coast for a couple of years, where he began writing as a casual pastime.  

Some time after returning to Chicago he began attending writers workshops at StoryStudio Chicago, where he wrote two character studies, both of which have since been developed into key characters in Code of Darkness.

Chris now lives outside Chicago with his wife Jenny and their two children, Luke and Emma.  You might catch him working away on his second novel while commuting on his morning train into the city. 

Code of Darkness – When a routine bank robbery takes an unexpected turn, veteran Chicago police officer Larry Parker witnesses a heroic act by a mysterious intervener. But seconds later the Samaritan disappears, leaving Larry only with unanswered questions.

Suddenly, vigilante activity begins popping up all over the city – including several murders. Larry begins to gather the missing pieces of the puzzle, and finds evidence the Samaritan might be tied to them. When he learns the man’s identity – a loner known only by the name Rage – he prepares to move in for the arrest.

But there is much more to Rage than meets the eye: the case has also drawn the attention of a covert Black Ops division within the Pentagon. Their mission: find Rage, while keeping their operation out of the public eye. Seen as knowing too much, Larry suddenly finds himself in the crosshairs as well. After a deadly standoff, Rage is captured, forcing Larry to search for answers while on the run.

The deadly chase leads cross-country to a top-secret military facility in Virginia, where Rage and Larry uncover the greatest danger of all — and only they can stop the unthinkable from happening.

Purchase Links: 

5 thoughts on “Trimming Down: to cut or not to cut?

  1. I don't like writing in public because I talk to myself! I end up having a discussion with my character and people tend to give me odd looks.

    But my novels end up a few thousands words too long, too. It's handy because you have scenes to play with, but heartbreaking to chop something you think is perfect.


  2. I like the look of your novel, Chris.

    I have the opposite problem from you – my first drafts are nearly always too short. Probably because I'm impatient to find out what happens next! But like you I enjoy writing on trains.


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