When You Rewrite, Cut the do-nothing Chapters

Does this paragraph/page/chapter actually accomplish anything?

Recently, I rewrote my middle grade fantasy, Rat Race.  In my earlier draft, I had troubles suspending my disbelief.  How could Mom not know what was going on at the other end of the house? Picture a common ranch house here, not a mansion.  To fix this problem, I got rid of Mom for a couple of hours.  I did it in a perfectly believable way.  She went to work.

But this also meant that I had to make changes through out the rest of the manuscript.  Between the time Mom left and the end of the manuscript,  I had to evaluate paragraphs and chapters in which Mom and the kids had interacted.  Was this activity important to the story?  Did it advance the plot or shed some light on the character?

This became especially critical with one particular chapter.  Mom almost catches the boys up to no good.  Without Mom there to stumble across them at just that moment, they would solve the problem one chapter earlier.  But as I read the chapter, I had to wonder “is anything in this chapter critical?”  Sure, it gave me an opportunity to show off my not-so-vast knowledge of pet rats.  And it was a bit of a roadblock for the boys, but only a bit.  It didn’t change their goals.  It didn’t create a vast obstacle.  All it did was pause the action and string things out a bit longer.

I don’t remember where I read this, but I remember an author or editor commenting on delaying giving out a key piece of information.  The phone can only ring so many times before your reader/viewer knows that all you are doing is stalling.

That’s all this chapter was — a great big stall tactic.

As you rewrite your WIP, take a hard look at your chapters.  As you do, do you hear a phone or doorbell ringing?  If so, this particular chapter may need to go.

–SueBE