So I’ve been working on this terribly overwritten draft of my novel in progress. Gone through the printed pages carefully, cutting, pruning, taking out piles of adjectives and phrases. The typed pages are a mess now, not unlike this other mess from a previous project. I keep thinking, “Which gremlin scribbled all over these neat pages here that I now have to type up?” though the gremlin is me. This novel I have been writing since 2004. Part of its problem is uneven terrain: while I was figuring out what it was, I was writing along, letting time pass in the story, and the story emerged like sourdough bread (a terrible metaphor!) that, 100 or so pages into it, actually begins to take shape. So now as I comb through the years of words on these pages, I see where things need to be built up, and where torn down. With this project, I pushed language and narrative beyond anything I’d ever done. On purpose. Because I could! Here I gave myself license to write a really bad first draft, and use all the purple colorful clang I heard in my head. (Knowing I would cut later.)
Too many adjectives! Oy vey! Too many phrases strung together that unwound from my mind and at one moment in time made sense but now hang like random junkyard decoration. Get that egg beater out of there! What did I just step on? Is that stench overripe banana? And so on.
Get it out of here!
I realize at least two things about this draft, both of which were essential to my authority in telling the story. I needed both:
1) The self-indulgent “let everything be in there” messiness. As author and creator of this world, I had to see how dingy and dusty and clangy and rotten the nouns were. I had to see the layers of adjective like paint on an old carnival sign, repainted over crack and crumble. How else would I know the patina of this place? And;
2) The excessive phrases that are stage directions: “She put the scissors on the round table to the left of the door” and so on. If it’s even important that she put the scissors down (question everything!) does it matter where? She put them down. Fine. But the writer, again, to establish authority, must see the whole thing happening like a play, must know and track where the scissors are put down. In case someone else needs to bob her hair! And so on like that.
If I know this world I’m writing is dusty and clangy and I know where the scissors are, I don’t have to tell you (unless it’s important to the story). If I am doing my job well enough, the reader will trust me. She will thank me for sparing her unnecessary words. Doing so will leave me more room for the things that really need to be there. It’s like all the doing of research that doesn’t end up in the novel. Having those things, knowing them, seeing and breathing them, is what allows me to tell the story in a way that will keep people reading.