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Fiction Tips: Gutting. It’s All in a Day’s Work.

When it comes to my revision process, I often use the word “gut,” as in “I need to gut the damn thing.” It’s an apt visual, since the process is messy, stinky, and results in metaphorical entrails being strewn about the house.

I actually love this process and love forcing myself to take major risks and do something that might not make sense on the surface. (What? Kill off a main character? Turn the good guy into the bad guy? Start the story two years earlier? Add flying monkeys and a creature from outer space? Oh-kee-dokee.)

It’s a good exercise, and an important exercise. And I’m not alone in these gutting moments.

A few weeks ago, I re-watched The Sopranos. The first time I binged on the series, which was only a couple of years ago, I likened the experience to inhaling a pizza or pint of ice cream when you’re REALLY hungry. You kinda slurp it all down in one big gulp without taking the time to savor the flavors. It still tastes great and leaves you satisfied, but you miss some of the nuances along the way.

So I decided to re-watch and study from a craft perspective. Think dialogue. Scene-setting. Pacing. Character development. It’s all there. David Chase and his writers are masters.

But even with a series like The Sopranos, one where Chase had so much control, he still had to do some major gutting every now and then. Chase was forced to re-think the whole third season due to the fact Nancy Marchand, who played Tony’s mother Livia Soprano, died in real life.

Originally, he’d planned on having a major storyline that would involve Livia testifying against her own son. That definitely would have been a great story. But then Marchand passed way, and Chase needed to gut the storyline and completely rethink it.

Would his original vision have been better than what he came up with? We have no way of knowing, but I DO know that season 3 was brilliant just the same.

I guess my point is this: don’t be afraid to gut and go in a completely crazy and different direction. You might be surprised by the results, and it’s good practice if you work in a publishing environment where you don’t have complete control over your work (and I don’t just mean fiction writing or television, either…I’ve had the occasional copywriting client who’s nixed whatever it is I wrote, forcing me to start over).