It never ceases to amaze me how much useless dialogue makes it into a published book. Even fantastic writers are capable of falling in love with their own words to the detriment of a story. One has to go to someone like Graham Greene or Nabokov to really find an author who could be said to have a sharper knife than their editor. And it's a shame. There's something extremely liberating to being about to edit out good but unnecessary copy from a story. It's something that feels professional, something a real writer can do that tinkerers just can't find the strength to pull off. But there are some far more beneficial reasons to do it:
- Editors and agents like books that flow. You can lose 'em in the first 10 pages if you're throwing out pretty words with no drive behind them. You probably rationalize it by saying you're showing the reader your craft, but you're not. You're boring them. It's the literary equivalent of an egregiously long and superfluous guitar solo. Be the Rolling Stones, not Yngwie Malmsteen.
- Editing out unnecessary text sharpens the story and the characters.
- You'll become a better author.
So why is it so hard to do? I suppose mostly people are afraid that once cut the words are lost. If words are the building blocks of life in a book, then sentences and paragraphs feel like children. Cutting out a particularly well-written paragraph or scene may feel very personal. It might even hurt emotionally. Relax! They're just words and they don't ever die. Trust that you will write more and there will come a time when this little phrase, paragraph or scene will be the absolute perfect fit for it. Cut it and do what I do: save it to a doc containing random exorcised bits. Give it a bit of explanation so it doesn't exist sui generis (who knows when you'll be back to collect it?) and then let it go. It's not gone. It's not bad writing. Quite the opposite, actually. By waiting for the right moment in the right story, you will give this pearl the chance to really shine.