Embracing Your Inner Butcher

Earlier this morning I killed a couple of paragraphs. Perfectly innocent little things, well written, even revealed a smidge of character in them. Not enough. They weren’t pulling their weight, the little deadbeats, and now they’re gone. In the next session, whenever that is, I have already planned which section of the story I mean to attack. There will be more carnage, more innocent words spilled. It will not, however, be murder. It will be self-defense.

Long, hectoring tirade follows. Proceed at your own risk.
When I was first starting out, then as now I sweated every word, every paragraph. There is, to put it mildly, a certain reluctance to question a structure you spent so much time and effort building. You don’t see the bad angles and the clumsy design. All you see is your accomplishment. “I made that” and it was good. It’s part of your story, and your story is good. You worked hard and long and that was good. It’s all good.

No. It’s not. Odds are there isn’t even a story yet. There may be the potential of a story, buried somewhere under all that weight of verbiage. I’ve said it before and I’ll gladly repeat myself–you don’t cut material because it’s bad. You cut it because it’s wrong. It’s true as far as it goes, but there’s more to it (isn’t there always?). Wrong in this context doesn’t even mean “wrong” in the sense of not being right. Wrong can simply mean “not right enough.” Being a perfectly good, well-written paragraph doesn’t mean squat if you can’t justify its existence. What does it do? Anything? Enough? Why is it there? Does it need to be there? Is it rambling? That might be ok if the trip is worth it. More likely it’s just the trail you made while trying to find the next section of story. Another reality that may take time to learn–something that needs to be written is not always something that needs to be read. Maybe it served its purpose in the writing but, like a JATO unit, once the plane is in the air it doesn’t need the rocket any more. It’s dead weight, and it’s jettisoned without a second thought. Cruel? No. Necessary.

As time goes on, perhaps, you learn to leave most of the dead bits out before they even get in there. You write tighter from the start. That’s good, but you don’t forget how to cut. I rank the ability to cut well right up there with grammar, vocabulary, and imagination as one of the most important tools in the box. The only difference between a beautiful rose bush and a bramble hedge more thorn than flower is the proper use of the cut; you learn to use a cut the way an artist uses negative space. What you leave out is every bit as important as what you put in and, when you’re done, you might just have a story.

Ayah. It does sound like I’m lecturing. I apologize. I’m just trying to make myself feel better over what I had to do to those paragraphs. A tinge of regret, even though it had to be done. A tinge more for what I’m about to do, and what I will do after that. It never hurts to remind oneself why.