On Streamlining, November 19, 2017

To me, writing gets the words down, akin to that of an artist sketching out a rough shape on paper, but editing is what takes an idea and turns it into a story. I’m not just talking editing about dotting the eyes or crossing the T’s, I’m talking about Streamlining, Trimming the fat, or, to put it in ugly terms, murdering your babies.

 

What I mean by all of this, is chopping out ANY scenes that don’t either advance the plot, the characters, or the world.

Does a character exist to advance the plot or are they inconsequential? Is an action scene needed, or just fluff? Is it worth it to describe someone’s actions, or would such common day mundane activities easily be formed in the reader’s minds?

Lastly, can a whack of words be combined into a single phrase?

I’ve also noticed that my manuscripts are NOT the only ones requiring such actions.

Let’s do an example of what Streamlining means to me. A fellow had asked if I could go over their manuscript to see why it wasn’t being accepted. After only three pages in, I realized that it was more comments of what could be done than the actual story. Stopping, I emailed him, and we reviewed together, going over much of it in a direct message. After asking permission, I was allowed to use the following points, which I’ve edited much of. I hope this shows my process of streamlining, and maybe, helps you too.



Geoffrey walked into the house and closed the door. Removing his boots, coat, hat, and gloves, he hung them in the closet. Feeling hungry because he hadn’t eaten since the morning, Geoffrey walked down the hall, turning on the lights. He stepped around the furniture and the toy cars and legos and dolls that his kids had left out. Trying to be quiet, Geoffrey walked on the tips of his toes down the carpet, onto the hardwood, and onto the tiled floor of the kitchen.

Opening the fridge, Geoffrey searched for food to eat, and finally, after a while, decided on some leftover meatballs and spaghetti in a yellow circular Tupperware, and opening the lid, grabbing a fork, he fed himself the cold food, making a face in disgust at the taste of cold pasta.


Writer: So what do you think?

Me: Honestly?

Writer: Yes, please.

Me: It’s 135 words to say he went to the kitchen and ate.

Writer: But I wanted to show that he was really hungry, and to also show that the house is a mess, and he has kids.

Me: … Okay, so let’s show that. Let’s cut the fat. Do we really need to say he removed all those clothes?

Writer: But, that’s what he took off.

Me: What’s a word that can say all of that at once? Thesaurus time!

Writer: gear, outerwear, um

Me: So let’s use that. Is it important for him to hang his clothes, or throw them over a chair? We know from previously that he’s meticulous about hanging things, so maybe we can skip it. Also, a trick when writing resumes is to start with a verb to show action. He’s in a hurry, let’s go with that.

Writer: Um, okay.


Hurrying into the house, Geoffrey closed the door and shucked his outerwear and boots.


Me: Shucked? That’s awesome. It gives the feeling of peeling an oyster! I love it!

Writer: Wow, thanks. I didn’t think it would work.

Me: What’s next? How about his travel down the hall?

Writer: what do you mean?

Me: It too, can be simplified. We can just call all the debris on the floor in one word, and we can show the light is on by saying something like in the cast light of the overhead lamps, or even ignore it completely.

Writer: ok

Me: and lastly, how important is it to say what Geoff is walking on? Does it impact the story any?

Writer: Um, no.


Stepping lightly, he avoided the spilled toys that filled the hall as made his way to the kitchen in an attempt to satisfy his gnawing hunger.


Me: Gnawing hunger! Now you’re making it desperate. Let’s look at the final part.


Opening the fridge, Geoffrey searched for food to eat, and finally, after a while, decided on some leftover meatballs and spaghetti in a yellow circular Tupperware, and opening the lid, grabbing a fork, he fed himself the cold food, making a face in disgust at the taste of cold pasta.


Me: After a while? Blow that away. There are other words to use, and do we need to know about the dish the pasta is stored in?

Writer: No

Me: Is there also a way we can relate to the reader why Geoffrey suffers disgust at cold pasta?

Writer: Hold on! I think I have something. BTW, do you have another word for fed?

Me: Shoveled?


Opening the fridge, he spied some leftover meatballs and spaghetti. Grabbing a fork he shoveled the cold pasta into his mouth, cringing at the greasy feel cold sauce and starch left on his tongue.


Me: Wow, can you combine it?


Writer:

Hurrying inside, Geoffrey closed the door and shucked his outerwear and boots before stepping lightly around his kids spilled toys. His gnawing hunger drew him to the kitchen, where he found some leftover meatballs and spaghetti in the fridge. Grabbing a fork, he shoveled the cold pasta into his mouth, cringing at the greasy feel cold sauce and starch left on his tongue.


Me: 63 words, less than half of the original, and far more poignant.

Writer:… I have some editing to do.

Me: Have fun.

 

So, that’s one example. I hope it helps. Don’t forget to offer to beta read. Sometimes, helping others is the best way to learn.

 

 

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