Many people believe, and I tend to agree, that art isn’t so much about what you put into it, but what you leave out.
I’m editing for the first time. I’m editing for the first time on my first novel, so I’m learning all sorts of new things as I go.
Mark Twain: “A successful book is not made of what is in it, but of what is left out of it.”
One of the lessons I learned the other day was the truly indecisive nature of what to leave in, and what to take out. I don’t know what I was expecting. I didn’t realize that some of the toughest choices would be if I should leave in certain descriptors to add depth, or to remove them to be more concise. I knew it would be hard to trim things down, but I didn’t expect to have to cut words, sentences, or even whole paragraphs that I loved because they were redundant or slowed the pacing. It was difficult, to say the least, but it had to be done. For the strength of the novel. For the good of the art.
At the same time, I’m also writing my second novel. I’m trying to be as concise as possible because I’m in a particularly long section of ‘telling’ and it needs to move as fast as feasible. I’ve written everything in present tense and trimmed it down to the bare bones. But then I was looking at it and wondering have I stripped away the meat and left just a dry recounting lacking in interest, in life, in soul? How do you know when it’s too concise?
“Life is selection,” wrote Ralph Waldo Emerson. “The work of the gardener is simply to destroy this weed, or that shrub, or that tree, & leave this other to grow.”
I think the answer to that question is like many others in any artistic craft – you just have to do the work and make your best guess. Trial and error. Then show it to your community, or someone more experienced, and ask for feedback. After a while, as an artist gains more experience, they learn what works and what doesn’t to the point where they’re the ones being asked for feedback. That’s why no creative can work in a void, no artist can work completely alone. They always need someone to bounce their ideas off of, to get feedback from, or to give feedback to.
Ultimately, I figured out my ‘best guess’ for the ‘telling’ section. I’m fleshing it out again, adding some of the descriptors back in, even if it slows the pacing down a little. I think it’s necessary to give the full picture of what’s going on in the story as it’s being told. And that will be my best guess. I’ll have some other people look at it and see what they think, get some feedback and make changes as needed. Because, ultimately, I get the final word on what is left out.