Create a Save-For-Later File
Debut authors put everything they can into their first novel. Sometimes too much. Too much exposition, lengthy dialogue, too many characters, characters that need big changes, excessive description, a plethora of plot points that may unfortunately have holes, and unnecessary elements that don’t move the story forward. I get it, you love your story, every bit of it. Every word choice is significant, every scene you wrote is important to you. You adore your characters, all of them. You love the beginning of your story, you gush over the middle, and you’re wowed by your ending. Keep this in mind though, sometimes throwing in everything but the kitchen sink is excessive and detracts from your story. Save it my darlings! Your story may be stronger without that extra stuff.
Unfortunately for most debut authors, a publisher or agent may not feel the same way the author does. They’re not attached to the characters you carry around with you in your head, they’re not married to the dialogue you practiced in the shower, and they have no love for all the background info you dumped into the first chapter. Don’t despair, you can use some of that material in subsequent books if you’re writing a series, or you can tweak it and use it in a new story. Recycle, reuse, resurrect!
Save that exposition. Keep it organized. It can be dropped in bit by bit in subsequent chapters as long as you keep it simple and concise.
Maybe you created a fantastic character that just doesn’t fit in your debut novel, but perhaps they'll fit in a different novel, or the next in the series. Save all relevant info about this character so you can refer to it at a later time: name, appearance, age, quirks, persona, traits, who they're related to, where they work or go to school, where they come from, how they speak etc.
It’s possible you have two endings instead of one. Two climaxes that wrap up nicely and you don’t want to part with either one. You may feel your story needs both. Think about this though, if you make it your business to take one out and rework the one that exists you may have an ending at the ready for the second in your series, or another book. Nothing is wasted. The truth is, you need to trim that debut novel and make it as tight as possible without losing major elements.
I know how you feel, you love your darlings, your character conversations, the plot points you painstakingly derived. You love your story’s beginning, middle, and end. I feel ya. But what if I told you taking some of that extra stuff out can actually improve your story? It can, for reals!
Take your ego out of the equation. Create a save-for-later file on your computer and chuck all the extras in there. If something is well-written but not working or it just doesn’t belong, throw it in the save-for-later file. You’re not abandoning your work; you’re collecting it and storing it for the future.
When you remove something from your manuscript, a sentence, a paragraph, a conversation, a character, reread the passage. If it works without the subtraction, you’re on the right track. Leave it out. Embrace further deletions. You may be happy to find, without those things, your writing is stronger, and your story is more compelling.