As part of the editing process on the Future Learn course on Writing Fiction, it is suggested that the following questions (amongst others) can help reduce your scenes to become more succinct and focused;
•What really matters about this scene?
•What ‘adds’ something to the scene?
•What merely adds confusion, detracting from the main point?
What fascinates me about this particular exercise isn’t how just asking those few questions tightens up my writing; it’s how these questions can be interpreted differently.
An exercise to edit a particular piece of text to just a couple of lines highlighted this perfectly;
The heavy black and blue winter sky groaned awfully with rain clouds that at any moment were really about to fall crashing heavily down upon the street where, because it was rush hour, so many people, wearing all manner of different clothes, hats, shoes, boots, some of them carrying bags, suitcases, briefcases, scampered and strolled about the place as though oblivious to what was just about to happen over their very heads. One of these people was called Hilary and concealed inside her voluminous coat she carried the loaded, snub-nosed gun, and she also seemed to be the only one looking upwards into the tempestuous thundery heavens.
My own response was this, “It was raining heavily. Hilary wasn’t the only person walking out beneath the clouds, but she was the only person looking up, and the only person concealing a gun inside her coat.”
Yet, it took just a few minutes reading the comments of other students to see just how differently each of us had edited the text;
• The rain was about to fall on the street where many people strolled as though oblivious to what was just about to happen. Hilary carrying the loaded, snub-nosed gun inside her coat, seemed to be the only one looking upwards
• The winter sky groaned with rain clouds that were about to fall heavily on the busy street. Hilary concealed her loaded gun and looked up into the thundery heavens
• The black sky hung heavily over the rushing crowds below. Hilary paused to look up, clutching the gun under her coat and waited for the storm to break.
• The dark winter sky groaned heavily with rain clouds above the busy, rush hour street. Only Hilary, with her snub-nosed handgun concealed in her coat, seemed to be looking to the heavens, waiting for the imminent deluge.
I could literally include hundreds of examples, nearly all of them slightly different. Apart from my own answer (which was obviously the best one), I thought some examples still contained excessive descriptive language, whilst others lost some of the weight of the scene. However, some were excellent and showed a very high level of editing skills.
In comparison, the ‘suggested’ edit was; “The winter sky was heavy with rain. It was rush hour. Hilary concealed the loaded gun inside her coat.”
It looks like people’s opinions differed about what was considered important to the piece. It seems as if the heavy rain plays a part, the fact that it was rush hour, and that Hilary concealed a gun. Interestingly, the suggested edit makes no reference to the main character ‘looking up’, something that many of us students still included in our edit.
I can now appreciate how difficult it is to edit your work so it becomes something that is concise, yet still able to carry the important elements of the scene. On the flip-side it’s something of a revelation to remove some text that is clearly just getting in the way.
I’m almost looking forward to getting my first draft out of the way so I can spend some time on the editing process now.