Writing a Novel: Streamlining Sample

Last time I gave you the second draft for the opening scene based on the Melvin Backbreaker outline I wrote weeks ago. As it was a second draft, I cleaned up a few mistakes, changed the scene flow and added a new sub-plot. Let’s go over the changes.

  • Conversation-driven: instead of describing what they feel or think, I let them express it themselves. The opening segment in particular is stronger as you get to feel the abuse Melvin goes through from the customers.
  • Removed the unneeded clerk and replaced it with the existing character Matilda.
  • Introduced the first hints of a romantic subplot between the characters.
  • Greater consistency in Melvin’s characterisation, making him closer to a real person. Despite his feelings towards his family, and his passing remarks on his father’s death, it actually stuns and shocks him.
  • More sensory input for the reader.

But there are still things to fix. The overall scene woks better now—though it can go through many more revisions to be honest, I’m just skipping ahead—so what’s left to do? Streamlining, cutting out the unnecessary bits, lowering the word count and making it a smoother read. Remember that just because certain agents and ‘specialists’ claim that a standard novel is 90k words, it doesn’t have to be. If yours is, then better make sure those 90k deserve to be there and they’re not added fluff. For this sample, I’ve cut out over 100 words in unnecessary or long descriptions, opting for something more concise and clearer to read.

Again, I’m skipping ahead on the process as I would probably go through several rounds of editing with my proofreaders to ensure the best possible outcome.

“What the fuck you mean I don’t have the stuff? It was on the rect!” The biker barbarian shouted as he pulled a folded piece of paper from his breast pocket. Melvin leaned back, grimacing at the man’s tobacco and whiskey breath, shocked that it had made it through the thick protective glass. “Twelve-A in duplicate, Forty-B, driver’s license and DNA sample! It’s all here!” he slammed the paper against the glass, the thick crystal creaking. Roided by the looks of it this one, Melvin thought, confident the barrier would hold.

He regarded the biker with a practiced, convincing but insincere look. “Oh…dear…” He let the words hang and sighed, shaking his head. “That’s the old procedure…here.” Melvin carefully pulled out a stack of papers, thick enough to kill rodents with, from a side drawer. “I compiled this guide myself!” He lied but beamed proudly just as well. “It’s all you need.”

The new method involved new forms in triplicate, certified, notarised and required genetic material from everyone involved. As the biker’s confusion grew, his brow furrowed, his arms bulged and his skin took on a sunrise shade of red. “Are you fucking kiddin’ me?” The barbarian bellowed as he slammed his fist against the glass, triggering the alarm and engaging the securobots.

The emergency sound blared so loudly other customers had to cover their bleeding ears, though on Melvin’s side it was but a whisper. “I don’t have the fucking time to do all this fucking shit, I’m just here to renew my fucking driver’s licence you shithole! Just give me my shit and I’m…wait, get your fucking tin hands off me!” He snarled and the first securobot crumbled, its face smashed in. “I’ll fucking kill y…” the high-voltage tazer interrupted his rant and left him shaking in the fetal position.

Melvin leaned forward, shook his head and pushed the button under his desk, obscuring the dual-phase glass. He knew the customers on the other side would see CLOSED on it. He leaned back and turned on his chair’s automassage option. “I hate this job sometimes…” he groaned as he rubbed his face. The massage took effect and he felt himself relaxing.

He felt a hand on his shoulder and it made him jump. “I’m awake!” he said startled, only to find Matilda giggling behind him chuckling. She had a bundle of papers under her arm. “Oh, Mattie, you almost gave me a heart attack, I thought it was…”

“Thomas?” She said. “Surely I’m cuter than he is!” She said with a mischievous glint in her eyes.

“Of course you are, Mattie, I wouldn’t dream of comparing you!”

“Good!” She nodded and it made her rebellious hair go into her eyes, making her squint. She often cut it short, with just a long bang over the front, combed to the side. She handed him a brown envelope before fussing over the eye-gouging bang. “It’s from your solicitor, Mel.”

“I don’t have a solicitor.” He said and looked at the sender’s address: Maccallum, the Backbreaker estate’s homeworld. “Shit…”

“What is it?” Mattie leaned closer, and he could smell the soft vanilla oil she used and feel the soft wool of her sweater on his uncomfortable dress shirt.

He glanced sideways at her, the way he always did when she wasn’t paying attention, then shook the thoughts away. “It’s from my dad…”

“Oh…” she let the words hang. “Maybe he wants to talk to you, get back in touch?” She said, but couldn’t manage to sound convincing.

“Nah, he’s probably croaked!” Melvin said casually. “Ow! What was that for?” He rubbed his arm where she slapped him.

“Don’t joke about that!” She reprimanded him, her stare hard.

Oh crap, her dad…he thought, remembering her leaning on him at the funeral. “Sorry Mattie, but me and my dad aren’t the same as you and yours. He’s a mean old bastard, and he’d die before he ever apologised.”

Melvin opened the envelope and pulled out the long document. He skimmed through it, disregarding or filtering out the legal speech. “Well, what do ya know…” He said numbly.


“I was right…mean old bastard did croak!” He chuckled once, but it was weak. He looked in disbelief at the letter.

“Oh Mel, I’m so sorry!” She hugged him tight, then looked at his quizzical expression. “Are you ok?”

“I don’t know…” He admitted. “I always figured I’d be happy, but it just feels weird…”

“He was your dad, of course you’re not happy!” She said sternly. Then her eye caught some of the letter’s content. “It says something about an inheritance there!” she pointed at the page.

Melvin skimmed the page. “Wow, that’s weird and so like the old man.” He shook his head.

“What is it?” She leaned in so close he could feel her heartbeat.

“According to this I need to go to Maccallum to the family estate and jump through some hoops for the inheritance.”


“I don’t have a clue, it doesn’t say.”

“I think you should go!” She said firmly, locking eyes with him.

“I don’t give a damn about the inheritance!” he said offhandedly, but too loudly, making heads turn towards him.

“Just go, you need the closure!” Mattie insisted, her voice lowering to a whisper.

“I’ll think about it, ok?” He grumbled when he saw the adamant look on her face.

“Good.” She nodded and returned to her post.

Melvin did the same, pressing the button again and forcing himself to deal with more customers.

As Melvin left the Ministry that evening, he found Mattie waiting for him. “Hey.” He said flatly.

“I knew it!” She said, wiggling her finger accusingly at him before the summer breeze made her hair go wild and into her eye. “Ow!”

Melvin chuckled and helped her. “Thanks!” He said.

“For what?”

“I need a good laugh.” He grinned.

“You idiot!” She shook her head. “You going home?”

“Yeah, lots to think about…” he said, patting the satchel on his side.

“Want some company?” She moved in closer, a hint of concern in her eyes.

“Uh…uh…yeah…” he mumbled and she nodded.

“Great, let’s hit the off license. We’ll get you properly hammered!”


“Your dad just died! Not a night to be sober!”

She grabbed his arm and pulled him with her.


After three cases of beer and three bottles of wine, Mattie looked him in the eye. “So you goin’?” she slurred.

“You know what? I think I will!” He said, wobbling.

“Just don’t forget us little people when you’re richhhhh!” she said, taking another sip from the current victim, a bottle of rum.

“Why don’t you come with me?” He blurted out what he was thinking. Not all of what he was thinking though.

“Are you serious?” She said clearly, the slur slapped out of her by the shock.

“Yeah! I need you there with me!” He said, the alcohol making him more honest than ever.

“I’ll need to ask for vacations, and my cat and…” She flustered and blushed.

Oblivious to it all Melvin continued. “Let’s talk to Thomas tomorrow. No way he’ll stop us from going to pay respects to my dad!” He grinned.

“Ok…” Mattie nodded before taking a long gulp from the bottle.

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I love everything readable, writeable, playable and of course, edible! I search for happiness, or Pizza, because it's pretty much the same thing! I write and ramble on The Mental Attic and broadcast on my Twitch channel, TheLawfulGeek

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