There. I said it, and I mean it. He was one of the 60+ writers who took part in The Rule of Three Blogfest I co-hosted (w/Damyanti, Lisa and JC). He is also a “Tribe” member of mine in a group that twits and kibitzes…a lot. He was one of the early members who came to my call when I needed it most, and that will not soon be forgotten.
‘Ladies and gentlemen…have you met Frederick?
The Creativity Series Guest Blog
The Beauty of the Delete Key: Frederick Lee Brooke
A famous writing teacher once asked which is more important in the writing process, the lead or the eraser? Also known nowadays as the delete key. Lots of writers talk about their rising daily word count as if it were like a fund drive, always going up, up, up. Mine is going down, down.
Don’t get me wrong. I love cruising through my first draft, starting at zero and ending at 90,000 or whatever. If I have planned well, the first draft goes quickly.
I’m guessing the first draft makes up, for me at least, one-tenth of the writing process. Now’s when the delete key swings into action. What sort of things am I deleting?
1. stage directionsisa &
In my first draft I have a bad habit of blocking the characters’ movements. Readers can figure this out on their own. When I revise, I delete most of the blocking. Example:
He went in the kitchen and found the cappuccino on the counter.
He found the cappuccino on the kitchen counter.
To be handed walking papers is a cliche. It doesn’t really mean anything. I’m trying to say he’s been through a lot. Instead of trying to load the cliche with this meaning, I delete it and let the listed events that follow carry the weight.
He had been handed his walking papers in the last days. First he gets fired. For an offense he didn’t commit. He burned at the thought. Then he gets shot at and served with divorce papers.
To think what he had been through. First he gets fired. For an offense he didn’t commit. He burned at the thought. Then he gets shot at and served with divorce papers.
3. too much description
In the example below, I realized it’s not necessary to indicate some women are sitting and others are standing. Also “around the room” and “costumes” are unnecessary here.
Eight or ten women stood or sat all around the room, working at tables, laying out materials for tonight, sewing costumes and chatting.
Eight or ten women sat working at tables, laying out materials for tonight, sewing and chatting.
4. banal agreement in dialogue
Maybe only I do this. Probably comes from growing up in the suburbs.
Annie nodded. “I don’t think you want that spatter on your nice clothes.”
“You don’t want that spatter on your nice clothes.”
Of course, I’m not just deleting as I revise, I’m also adding dialogue or interior monologue where I’ve moved too quickly. I’m sharpening edges, deepening interiors, and increasing fireworks. It’s not just about shortening; it’s about making every word count.
The master of mysteries and westerns, Elmore Leonard, said, “My most important piece of advice to all you would-be writers: when you write, try to leave out all the parts readers skip.”
The first draft of my new Annie Ogden mystery reached 92,000 words, but lately, following a second and third run-through, it’s held steady at 85,000. Although I keep cutting, I’m also recognizing places that need more detail, more attention, or slower treatment, in order to bring them into higher relief.
I’ve told you something about my writing process, with emphasis on the delete key.
Which is more important for you, the lead or the eraser?
Frederick Lee Brooke has been a teacher, a language school manager and a school owner. He lives with his family in Switzerland and makes frequent trips to the U.S.A. and other countries. He loves cooking, walking, reading, and learning languages and speaks English, German, French and Italian and is learning Turkish. “Doing Max Vinyl” is the first in the series of Annie Ogden mysteries. It can be purchased on Amazon or on Smashwords. The sequel to “Doing Max Vinyl” is due in April 2012.