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Tuesday, December 13, 2011

How Editing is like Tithing in Reverse

Tithing. It comes from the Jewish Scriptures (the Old Testament to us Catholics). It's when we give God the "first fruits". It's saying, "Hey, God. Since everything comes from you, I give you back the first and best part of everything, just so You know that I know." (And then we wink.) That's why we tithe off the gross, not the net. Otherwise, the government would get the first and best. Not going to happen.

When you edit, you're tithing ten percent, only it's not the best ten percent, and it's not going to God (or to the all-powerful reader). This ten percent goes right into the wastebasket. But it's still a gift. By culling it out of the story, your reader winds up with only the best. The last fruits, but in this case that's a good thing.

There are those who will tell you to edit out twenty, thirty, or even forty percent of your first draft, but I say, No, No. Let us not be extreme. Or, if we're going to be extreme, do it in steps. Edit ten percent. Clean it up. Edit another ten percent if necessary. Clean it up. And so on.

Cutting like a madwoman on a scissors rampage can kill the voice of your story. Here is my finely edited mystery:

He killed. She died. They solved. The End. Grunt.

Some advise taking out all of the adverbs. I'm not going to sink into a depression  if I read "Tell her to go to hell," he said, jokingly. Maybe it's because I read a lot of old books. If Agatha Christie can get away with it, it's a rule that can be broken.

I'm in love with words, so my first draft has a lot of blather. It's highly creative, impressive blather, but it's still blather. My first draft of Family Matters was more of a social satire/mystery. There was a subplot about an illegal immigrant who witnessed the murder...and the murderer knew it. While this poor, frightened guy was trying to lay low and avoid his own demise, demonstrators on both side of the issue were trying to make him their poster boy. Funny, perhaps brilliant, (well, I thought it might be) but it brought in all sorts of characters who had nothing to do with the murder. But they sure made the book fun.

Snip, snip.

1 comment:

  1. So agree. Great post! Would say more, but snip, snip...