Monday, June 3, 2013

The End - A Lesson In Writing

It’s a toss-up. Is it harder to write "The End" when you know you have finished a story, or is it the best part? I don’t know. Last week, after some aggressive re-writing, I typed those words at the end of a short story that had to meet a submission deadline. I had put those words at the end of the story before, when I first finished it, but that was some time ago. I tend to avoid finishing a story anyway, perhaps because I’m not ready to say goodbye to it, or to the lives I have created, or simply because I’m not always certain that the words I have used to tell the story I have invented are the perfect ones, the only ones that will do the job. Good writing, I believe, is like great music: the second note is the only one that could possibly follow the first, the third the only one to come after the second, and so on. Until the composer has found that note, or the writer that word, the work is unfinished, not ready to be shared.

Once the words are there, assembled in their proper order, the story told from beginning to end, the real work begins. I know from experience that (T)here is no story that cannot benefit from cutting, from slicing out words that don’t work as hard as they could, are not as strong as the line demands. If there is a part of writing I find difficult (and here I’m talking about the intellectual process of writing, not the actual mechanical part), it is reading a line or paragraph or chapter over and over until I have distilled it fully, taken out words that weaken what I have to say because they hobble the reader’s understanding or confuse or obscure what I really want to say.

There is another consideration, of course: does a cut disrupt the flow, the rhythm of the writing? Sometimes words that seem unnecessary are there as much to support the words that come before and after, as they are there to tell the story. I once worked for a producer who always asked, before reading a new script, "Does it sing?" If it didn’t, it wasn’t ready for him to read, and certainly not ready to go into production. Cutting, editing, becomes is an act of creation, not just reduction too.

The End

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