August 21, 2009

Editing My Heart Out

"Omit needless words. Vigorous writing is concise. A sentence should contain no unnecessary words, a paragraph no unnecessary sentences, for the same reason that a drawing should have no unnecessary lines and a machine no unnecessary parts."

William Strunk, Jr. Elements of Style

I use a lot of words. I am a wordy writer. When I re-read my first manuscript the first time, I felt like I was doing aerobics...

She dropped her chin, looking up over her glasses, stood up, raising an eyebrow and pointing a finger. "How dare you."

He whirled around and reached for the doorknob, paused and took a deep breath, tapping his fingers on his thigh and counting to ten. Before he left, he turned slowly, clenching his jaw. "How dare you." He spun and jerked the door open, breathing his fury away as he strode out of the room and down the stairs.

Sheesh. That is not from any of the books (just made it up right here and now), and may be a little exaggerated (and corny), but not by much. Pretty wordy, huh? So I have been learning to do this...

The chair scraped as she stood, glaring over her glasses. "How dare you."

His anger struggled to take over as he reached for the doorknob. He paused, then turned back slowly, clenching his jaw. "How dare you." The door shuddered as he jerked it open. He couldn't leave fast enough.

I cut out 29 words. And the scene moved much more quickly, as it would in real time.

My friend, Carla, made an eye-opening point, a revelation, just before I began the third edit and still needed to lose pages. She calculated that if I got rid of 10 words per page, I could shear about ten pages off the novel. I had already lost 38. 10 words per page sounded far less daunting than 50 pages. Keeping her simple formula in mind, I lost 21 more pages.

I still like the last sentence of the first example better, but when you are asked to shorten a novel by 50-80 pages, it quickly becomes clear what stays and what goes. Then, maybe there will be room to go back and add that really good but wordy descriptive later.

And my novel moves along nicely, now. Thank you. I wonder if this experience will make me a more concise writer next time. I know it will make me a better editor of the manuscripts I have already written. Maybe there will be less breathing away my fury.

Yeah, right. Not even to fury yet. I love this too much.

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