Delete. Delete, delete, delete . . .
My friend Michael (thevelv.blogspot.com) is in the throes of editing a wonderful biography of his mother Catherine Duncan who was an actress, artist and witty and observant commentator on life. Mike’s book will be released through Macmillan next year and so he is in the clutches of the dreadful ‘R’ word. Or the ‘E’ word if you like. Revision, editing, it’s all the same. This is what he says in a recent blog:
Three things I’ve discovered about editing:
1. You can always use fewer words.
2. Be prepared to kill a beloved phrase in the interests of the whole.
3. It’s got to have rhythm.’
I thought about this in respect of my own editing. Fewer words, indeed. As I revise, I have watched a 99,000 word ms go from that illustrious figure to 98,000, then 98, 650, 99,005, back to 98, 900. Up and down as I delete, re-write, delete, again and re-write some more.
In respect of Number 2, I’m a mass murderer with my script. Favoured descriptions run hiding when they see me with my finger poised over the delete button. But then I do suffer the curse of the over-write and things need to be killed off.
As to Number 3, rhythm, that one has me beat. Is it voice, is it pace, all of which can be idiosyncratic?
If it is rhythm, I equate it with Cecilia Dart Thornton whose marvelous dense narrative I adore, a somnolence sometimes that lives and breathes but moves inexorably forward. Or perhaps it’s like Dorothy Dunnett whose sentences are the longest I have ever read but which sound like poetry when read aloud. Richard Armitage says the same about Georgette Heyer when he records the audio books for Naxos. “I’d like to strangle her for writing these incredibly long sentence constructions!” he says. “But actually, that’s part of the fun of it because we speak in such short soundbites these days, everything is so short and immediate that when you’re faced with a sentence which is really a paragraph long . . . you have to drive the thought through and keep the idea and syntax all in the right place.’
If it is pace, that’s a whole other thing, because I think pace can flow quite naturally with a rhythm all its own, without galloping like the lead horse in the Melbourne Cup.
Either way, I agree with all of Michael’s observations and wish him well as he continues, as we all do, to plug on.