Most people think novel writing is merely adding words. Accumulate so many sentences, so many paragraphs, so many pages… and you have a novel. They think it’s all about building… building a world, characters, a plot. But writers know that’s not how it is.
I was watching 60 Minutes last night. One of the stories was about Ken Burns, the man behind countless film series such The Civil War, Baseball, Country Music, The Vietnam War, Jazz, The War and more. Burns talked about how long it took to make each film (5 years). They asked why did he take hundreds and hundreds of photographs, and then not use all of them. Why did he do so many interviews… and then discard some? Why did he have pages of script that never made the final cut?
Burns said that filmmaking is not an additive process. It’s subtractive. When Ken Burns said that, I nodded my head like a bobblehead doll because I knew what he was talking about.
I have a rock on my desk at work that has one simple word Mod Podged onto it: deconstruction. It’s there to remind me that writing is more tearing down than building up. We spew out a story. We overwrite. We give too many details… and then we pare away, we slice bits off here and there, we toss words and lines and paragraphs into the recycling bin. We do it to make a tighter story, to give credit to the reader (that they can make inferences and reach conclusions), to ensure that our essay/short story/novel is not rambling.
Does it hurt a bit? Does it hurt that we get so many words down, and then we go backwards and have less words? Yes, but in the end it’s so satisfying when we have a taut piece, a piece that has nothing except what is absolutely necessary.
(I wish my weight was subtractive instead of additive. People are talking about the Covid 19--the 19 pounds they’ve gained since March. I feel like I’m dealing with the Covid 119… and the additive process continues.)
My WIP--the one I’m working on for NaNoWriMo--is a contemporary YA novel. The main character is a cutter. She gets harrased/bullied… and ends up channeling Emmett Till. I went to a writing retreat this weekend and as I was working on it, I kept checking my word count (to keep encouraging myself). It would go up, and then would go down by five/fifteen/fifty words… and then it would inch up again. I’d see parts that were boring, that slowed down the story, that weren’t needed… and I’d highlight and delete them.
And that’s what writing is all about. It’s about building up and then tearing away--all to make a stronger story.
Are you participating in NaNoWriMo? How do you go about revising? Deconstructing minds want to know...
Sioux Roslawski is a middle-school teacher, a dog rescuer and a freelance writer. She has a middle-grade novel coming out in the spring of 2021. The working title is The Murder of Greenwood. If you'd like to read more of Sioux's writing, check out Sioux's Page.