THOUGHTS ON SELF-EDITING

It's okay to be in love with words. It’s not okay to be in love with your words. Very little slows the flow of a novel more than providing too much information. If your hero throws a saddle on a horse at a riding academy to get away from a Ninja, the reader doesn’t necessarily need to know that the saddle is a 1961, three-quarter rigged Deuce Five with hand tooled fenders, a sixteen inch seat, a three inch cantle, in a medium swell. Those facts may be important to you, but you are not your target consumer. I know your words are your children, and your children are beyond value to you. You love and cherish them, but, truth be told, to most other people on this planet, your children are just somebody else’s kids. It’s a bitch, but it’s the truth.

I mentioned in another section on editing that I spent many years writing commercials for radio and television. One of the first things I had to learn was to get my ego out of the copy. Just because I loved it, didn’t mean that anyone else was going to like it, even a little bit. I had to learn not to oversell the product, overwrite the copy, and overvalue my own deathless prose. Get to the point. Your reader does not have to know what fertilizer was used on each type of flower, where that plant originated, and how long it took to reach maturity to enjoy the bouquet.

Think back to when you were in school. The teachers, professors, and instructors you enjoyed most, usually taught you things in spite of yourself. One way or another, the really good ones entertained you enough that you absorbed knowledge. Your function as a writer of fiction is not to educate your readers; it is to take them away for a while. If you do that well, they learn without even realizing it. If you don’t, you’ll lose most of them in the first two chapters. If you want to show them how much you know, write a textbook. You and I, as novelists, are entertainers. It is our job to help people escape, and they don’t like to work at that.

Even though it is difficult, when you review your work, try to approach it as if you are a stranger: a stranger with a machete who is going to clear as much brush off the literary trail as is necessary to get where he needs to go. Be ruthless. Your readers are.

At least, that's how it seems to me.

-David

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