Editing a novel is a pretty interesting experience. I’ve done it before with Serpent in a Cage and the result was feeling that the book was such a mess that it had to go through a complete upheaval and be entirely rewritten. So Soulless is the first novel I’m sitting down to edit with a publication clear in sight, and it’s so incredibly different than editing a short story or a bunch of short stories as I did for Bowlful of Bunnies. Making sure your language is tight and there’s no random messy bits hanging about is pretty easy for a 5000 word story. Bump that word count up to 50,000, and it’s a whole ‘nother animal. You find little details and things that, in the larger picture, don’t make a whole lot of sense, or details mentioned in the first part of the book (or the latter part) that don’t seem to be brought up anywhere else.
I’m calling this the Disappearing Horse Syndrome, because I just came across a horse in Chapter Nine of Soulless that does not make another appearance throughout the entire book. The group gets a horse to carry their extra supplies, and then there’s no mention of the horse ever again. These are the little things in a larger piece that can so easily be mentioned and forgotten, because they’re not essential to the plot. The author then has to decide to just cut the damn horse, because clearly it wasn’t important, or to weave it into the narrative and make it important. Just throwing in mentions of the horse for the sake of continuity seems an unwise choice, as one wouldn’t want to bog the story down with unnecessary details.
You may have heard of Checkov’s Gun: if there’s a gun mentioned in the first act, it better damn be fired in the second or third act. Every element of a narrative has to be important to the story. I’ve never been fully convinced about Chekov’s gun, to be honest…just because a gun isn’t fired doesn’t mean it isn’t essential to proving some nuance that establishes something about the setting or character…a gun hanging on the wall could suggest that the person who owns it is a shooter, or even the fact that it doesn’t go off might symbolize something about the person who has a gun so proudly on display though it never gets used. However, in the case of the Disappearing Horse, I’m pretty sure it’s safe to say that if you put in a detail and it never gets mentioned again, it very well doesn’t need to be there.
Any thoughts? Have you come across any Disappearing Horses in your editing? Do you tend to weave them into the story or cut them out? Any thoughts on Chekov’s gun? Do you feel it’s a good rule to work by, or do you disagree? I’d love to hear thoughts, as always.