Thursday, March 29, 2012

Lessons Relearned

One of my pleasant spring break tasks is going through the beautifully edited manuscript for my forthcoming novel, No Exceptions, about a seventh-grade student who brings her mother's lunch to school by mistake, a lunch containing a knife to cut her mother's apple, and who now faces expulsion under her school's zero-tolerance policies for possession of drugs or weapons.

Margaret had a lot of great queries for me to answer, ones that I'm still wrestling with, but mainly she just cut, cut, cut, cut, cut. I found myself blushing as I saw the passages she had excised: so flabby! so overwritten! so belaboring of the point! so self-consciously clever! so violating the principle of "show, don't tell"! Once, to my shame, she even wrote "Show, don't tell" in the margin by the deleted paragraph. I do a presentation for elementary school kids on this very principle! And yet I still told when I should have showed - or rather, told, when I had already showed.

I showed Sierra's principal giving a long self-congratulatory speech to a principal visiting from another middle school, as Sierra needs to talk to him to explain her situation. Then I wrote, "Sierra had to tell him, but she didn't know how to disrupt the flow of his self-congratulatory speech."

Margaret: "Does the speech show us this? No need to describe?"

And, oh, the needless repetition!

I wrote, "Sierra had never kissed a boy. The closest she had come to kissing a boy was imagining kissing Colin."

Was that first sentence needed? No, it was not.

Did I need TWICE to explain that the boys play with their Gameboys under the table so that Ms. Lin won't see them? (Margaret: "How they play with the Gameboys is already established.")

Did I need TWICE to have someone try to avoid saying something "that could never be unsaid"?

The best invention ever made for writers, I am now convinced: the delete key. And today I am using it liberally. I am using it a lot.

Did I need BOTH of those last two sentences? No, I did not!

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