Monday, May 12, 2014
Editing is like pruning rose bushes
My husband and son once borrowed a Lord of the Rings unedited DVD from the library. They wanted to watch all the parts which were later deleted. They'd expected to find a number of extra scenes that hadn't made it to the movie. But there were, in fact, very few extra scenes. Instead, the scenes which were already in the movie had bits trimmed off them. They agreed that the bits that had been cut out were as excellent as the rest of the movie. But they didn't necessarily carry the plot forward. So while the scenery, characterisation and effects in them were fantastic, they didn't "add" anything to the story but just reinforced what was already there.
I think that in this regard, film editing seems very much like book editing. I ought to know. It has been my experience over nine novels. I'm always amazed by how many snips and trims can be made without sacrificing any story line. Sometimes it's just a sentence here and there, a few "How are yous?" or "thank you very muches." Other times, I've managed to delete entire paragraphs, because I've studied them and thought, "Readers will be able to work this out in their own heads without being spoon-fed," or "This is just repeating what I said in the last page, with different words." Sometimes I've managed to shorten a book by 50 or 60 pages just by getting rid of these unnecessary little extras. I've grown to quite enjoy this process.
Early in my writing days, I used to hate it because I thought, "That's goodbye to hours of hard work." And I've had other people tell me that this is the way they feel too. But I've come to see for myself that, paradoxically, taking parts away really does add to the story's quality. It tightens the whole thing and keeps it running more smoothly. A bit like pruning rose bushes or grape vines, I think. All that foliage appears green and healthy, but it gives flowers and fruit so much more opportunity to flourish when it goes.
I think everyone needs to do this type of editing, whether you're Shakespeare or a school student. The human brains seems to be constructed so we're naturally a bit too wordy and verbose in the first drafts. That's a good thing because it means that everything we want to get across is in there, and we just need to trim away the extra bits to make it shine.
Perhaps the biggest surprise of anybody who first begins to tackle editing is that while they might have expected the process to be mostly changing and adding things, this pruning and deleting actually takes up so much of the process.
Paula Vince is the author of nine novels, mostly contemporary dramas with elements of romance, mystery and suspense. She lives in the beautiful Adelaide Hills of South Australia, which she likes to use for the setting of most of her stories. You can visit her here.