In the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, there's an editing joke about how Ford spent the past decade writing about all of Earth's best places, restaurants, and experiences. When his work is submitted for publication, the entire entry for Earth is simply edited down to two words: mostly harmless.
In a 12,000 word story, I tend to edit out 2,000 words. Mostly I delete redundant words and phrases. For example, he set the book down on the table becomes he set the book on the table. Sometimes I cut out entire sentences if they're dragging down the rhythm of a paragraph. Occasionally I'll scrap a scene if it doesn't do anything to move the plot forward. Sometimes it's a bit painful. It reminds me of playing Magic: the Gathering back in the 90s and trying to build a sixty-card deck. Choosing those last few cards to get to sixty was always agonizing because I felt that I needed each one.
There's no sixty-card rule for short stories, but there is pacing. Readers expect to hit certain waypoints at specific times, and the story will feel off if they're missed.
Here's a few of the deleted scenes from Titan's Shadow, and why they were cut:
SPOILER ALERT: If you haven't read Titan's Shadow, grab a copy for 99 cents before proceeding.
Original Chapter One (preceding Cassini): Shanghai
Jia sits in the pristine hallway with her palms folded over her knees. Butterflies dance in her stomach. In the corner of her eye she watches a young administrative assistant swiping icons between translucent displays, the Shanghai skyline spiraling behind her. On the adjoining wall rests the China National Mining Association logo. The assistant becomes aware of Jia’s gaze and stares back. Jia curls her fingers into fists.
A mahogany door creaks open and Ping emerges wearing a dark suit and tie. They lock eyes a moment. Over his shoulder lies an interview room and a single chair. Before she can ask him how it went Ping says, “They’re ready for you.”
She stands and smooths her skirt, her footfalls clacking along the marble. When she reaches the doorway Ping steps aside, but as she is about to pass he places his hand on her arm. A touch of his hand and a smile, then she’s through the threshold. The mahogany door closes behind her.
Two men and one woman sit at a table opposite an empty chair. The lead motions towards the chair. “Please, Miss Xu.”
Jia crosses the room and sits. Chao is the senior and continues to speak, “Thank you for your candor during this week’s interviews.”
Jia breathes in and out, aware of the rise and fall of her chest.
Chao nods to Lei and he speaks next. “Miss Xu, regarding the matter of initial contact with the pirate vessel Maya at the Uranus T2 orbital platform, you are found negligent of following proper disengagement protocols where crew safety or corporate property are at risk. Your actions resulted in the significant injury of Senior Flight Engineer Ping Sun and the complete destruction of the Cormorant-class light carrier Prosperity.”
A flush spreads across her face to her neck.
“Furthermore,” Lei adds, “during the same encounter you brought the ascent vehicle to full power while the platform’s umbilical and clamps were still engaged.”
“I was being shot at,” Jia says, the words more curt than she intended.
Lei sighs. “And then you intentionally destroyed it at a loss of a seven-hundred-and-fifty-million yuan.”
“Respectfully, Chief Lei,” she begins, “it was worth a tenth of what’s on the platform, and I didn’t think the pirates would be able to access the platform without it.”
Lei interlaces his fingers. “But they did, Miss Xu.”
Jia looks away, glancing at nothing. Her expression sours.
“Had you disengaged it is likely both ships would have survived.”
She shakes her head. “You don’t know that. The Maya was clearly aware of us before we saw it. They could have fired on us as soon as we tried to disengage.”
“We’re interested only in facts.”
“Well, Chief Lei, here’s a fact for you. One hundred and twenty-eight seconds. That’s how long it was from initial contact to the battery room exploding. I spent that time dodging slugs, remote-piloting the ascent vehicle, piloting the Prosperity, and generally trying to keep me and Ping alive. I’d like to see what you could do in that situation.” She shakes her head. “The real person responsible for all of that is still out there, and no one’s doing anything about it.”
Lei is silent for a moment. He taps at the screen on the table, then glances back to Jia. “Next, regarding the matter of the one hundred and sixty-three thousand liters of Helium-3 you purged to atmosphere—“
She laughs. “Here we go…”
“—your actions are deemed appropriate by the panel.”
Jia raises her eyebrows. Her lips part, but she says nothing.
Lei continues. “The loss of six-point-eight billion yuan of Helium-3 is regrettable, but purging was appropriate to ensure crew safety. In this case.”
A cautious nod from Jia.
“Your testimony was fully corroborated with Senior Flight Engineer Ping Sun. We find him non-culpable in these matters.”
“As you should. Ping didn’t do anything wrong.” She curls her hands into fists again. “It was my command.”
“We agree.” Lei looks over to Meilin.
“Then you’ve reached your decision,” Jia says.
Meilin says, “We have. Your CNMA contract is terminated, effective immediately.”
Jia shakes her head. “That’s not fair.”
“To be clear, we had an extended discussion about pursuing legal reparations, recommending a pilot’s license suspension—”
Her face burns. “You can’t do that.”
“—but we will not do so, contingent on you not challenging the separation package. Your license will be intact and you can pursue other work.”
“Sure, I’ll just be blacklisted with every carrier.” She looks back to Lei. “You said Ping’s not responsible, right? I want your word that he gets to stay before I agree to anything.”
Lei frowns slightly. “We have not asked Mr. Sun to leave.”
Jia exhales audibly through her nose. “Fine.”
Meilin stands, and the rest of the panel joins her. “My assistant will escort you to your workspace, where you’ll need to clear your belongings.”
Clear your belongings is a gut punch and Jia’s knees are weak as she stands. She turns, crosses the room, and pulls the handle to the heavy door. Ping stands from the bench. In the corner of her eye the assistant in the red blouse moves outside her desk and walk briskly towards her, footsteps echoing rhythmically.
“I’m sorry,” Ping says.
“Miss Xu,” the assistant says, closing.
A lump forms in Jia’s throat as she wraps her arms around Ping’s strong shoulders. She speaks softly in Ping’s ear, “It’s okay, I knew this is how it would be. But Lei gave me his word, you’ll be fine.”
Ping leans back, slides his hands to the tops of her shoulders, and looks her in the eyes.
The assistant arrives. “It’s time to go. I’ll escort you both to your desks.”
Jia’s brow furrows and she ignores the assistant. I’ll escort you both. She questions Ping with a gaze.
Ping rubs her arms. “When they told me they were going to fire you—”
She shakes her head. “No, Ping…”
“—I quit.” He smiles. “Hey, we’re a team. You wouldn’t want me inflicting my bad jokes on another pilot, would you?” He smiles slightly and slides his hand down to hers, intertwining their fingers. “Wherever you go, I’ll be there.”
Jia squeezes the tears from her eyes, leans her head on his shoulder, and just breathes.
WHY IT WAS CUT: The final version of Titan's Shadow doesn't introduce the inciting incident (Jia spotting Flynn during the eclipse party) until midway through the second chapter. This is already a bit late. Pushing it out another chapter by starting with Shanghai caused pacing problems. Ultimately, what happens in Shanghai is a retelling of Aero One which can be summarized as Jia gets fired for her actions in Aero One. It's covered in her dialogue with Galen after she turns in Flynn.
SCENE BETWEEN "IN THE BLIND" AND "PISTACHE"
(DESCRIBING JIA AND PING'S RESCUE FROM TITAN)
Punga Mare station is illuminated like a roadside store on a stretch of desert highway. In the distance, a great black lake spans away from the shore’s edge mirroring the perimeter lights. The station is deserted and feels like an arctic research base. Jia and Ping stand near the main runway. She has her suit heater on, chewing up battery but warding off the chill.
In the sky, a pale patch of light moves beyond the clouds, growing brighter. When the ship emerges, its spotlights carve foggy cones in the night. The craft turns in a wide arc and skims over the lake. It’s large, armored, and both wings sport railguns. Engines hum, crackling the air. It glides to a halt on the runway twenty meters ahead. When the door opens, five men in U.N. PLEX suits emerge, rushing over to meet Jia and Ping, and they’re aboard the ship in an instant.
The gunship blasts back up through the atmosphere like a rocket. Clouds part as a sheath of ethane rain pelts the window, the raindrops looking like a blizzard in the ship’s forward lights, then the storm gives way as darkness surrenders to stars. One of the stars is its own constellation of red, green, and white lights. As they draw nearer, Jia can see structure—decks stacked on each other extending along a trapezoidal axis, docking bays spaced like legs on a centipede, and weapons everywhere. It’s at least three hundred meters long with an asymmetric forward nose. Massive letters read Hermes. It grows impossibly large as their gunship flies along its structure into one of the caterpillar-leg docking bays.
A soldier calls over from the airlock. “You both zero-gee capable or you need an escort?”
“Yeah, we’re good,” Ping says.
When they arrive at sick bay, it’s world-class, pristine white, and has tech Jia hasn’t even seen on Earth. Their doctor programs a nano-cellular repair regimen for her burns, encapsulate the bots under a layer of synthetic skin, and sets them to work. Her palms and knee feel like they’ve been dipped in glue. It could be worse. In a week it’ll peel off and she’ll have new skin.
Their debrief is short with warrant officer Casey Gray from the Criminal Investigations Unit. Whoever deployed the drones did so on the dark side of Titan, out of view. Casey’s reviewing all traffic to Titan during the past few days, but Jia doesn’t need him to tell her that their job was a setup.
“So,” Casey says, buckled into a chair in the interview room. “That was some pretty fancy flying. A couple of our guys can’t believe you kept three raptors at bay in a class-four hauler. Your PLAAF days are showing.”
Jia shrugs. “It’s been a while.”
“You flew TG-32’s. Two combat ribbons. Why’d you leave?”
“Family obligations.” She shifts. “Anyway, it got me my pilot’s license and paid for my degree.”
He nods and looks at Ping. “Quick thinking with the navcon telemetry.”
Ping shakes his head. “No special training. I’m just a nerd.”
Jia curls her fists. “You still have Flynn on board?”
A nod. “We do.”
“Either he somehow passed word about us or his friends figured it out. Either way, pretty sure he’s the reason we’re here. I’d like to have a few words with him.”
Casey appraises her. “I’d advise against that.”
“Request denied.” He unclicks his harness and pushes up from his seat. “Why don’t you both get some dinner and rest? Your escort will take you to the galley. We’ll reconnect tomorrow.”
“We’re not going back to Cassini?” Jia asks.
“Need to secure the area first,” Casey says, folding up his slate and tucking it into his belt. The door opens behind him.
Afterwards, Jia holds a tether beside the bed in their quarters. Ping rubs her back while she rubs her neck. Her hands no longer hurt, but they feel odd, like they’ve fallen asleep and she can’t shake feeling back into them. She takes a deep breath. “I don’t know what we’re going to do.”
WHY IT WAS CUT: The scene can be summarized as the Hermes rescues Jia and Ping and returns them to Cassini. Introducing Casey as a second investigator created one too many detectives. Instead, I moved the backstory dialogue about Jia's PLAAF days to Galen's conversation, referenced that she'd been treated by the Hermes medics, and expanded the investigation dialogue into the Pistache and Yin and Yang chapters.