Sunday, August 23, 2009

Save For Later - the Second-Biggest Lie

By Sophie

The biggest lie told by many grown-up ladies is not, in fact, "oh my gracious, that's the most astonishing man-tool I've ever encountered." That's just a little warm-up lie we use for practice before we get around to the hard work of bearing children. At that point we have to roll out the serious artillery, because - as every mother knows - lying to your kids is an art that takes practice and dedication and finesse.

Here's the thing. Kids want things. They want stuff from the moment they get out of bed in the morning ("where are my ankle-zipper jeans - doesn't anyone ever do laundry around here?") until they lay their precious heads on the pillow at night ("I'm already mostly asleep - can't you bring me a glass of water so I don't have to wake back up?")

Most times, a heartfelt "hell no" will do the trick. But sometimes their pleas merit a bit more robust response, like when they actually have a point, when what they are asking for is within the realm of reasonable.

Often, however, it just ain't convenenient.

Which necessitates The Mother's Lie: I'll talk to your father about that.

...And get back to you, is the implication there. As though when Bob walks in the door at the end of the day I'll be like, "Honey, Junior wants me to join the Academic Boosters like all the moms who care about their children's educations. What do you think, yea or nay?" - or "We're out of milk and toilet paper - do you suppose one of us should run to the store?"

....when I know darn well that I won't do anything of the sort. Yup, I'll talk to your father about that is the circular file of parental responses.

Which reminds me of the 2nd-most-oft-uttered lie around here, which is called into service any time I have to cut big chunks of text:

I'll use this section later.

Now I have to pause here to say that I feel kind of bad for Juliet, because what follows is cribbed directly from discussions we've been having on the road (we're in between cities on our book tour - Sunday was Phoenix, Thursday is L.A. etc.) Once I'm done here she won't have a darn thing to say, because we're in complete agreement on the subject.

(Though that's the perk to being the Monday girl: everything's fresh snow. I get to make tracks in any direction I want and there's nothing any of the other Pens can do about it. Which makes me feel gleeful...kinda makes me want to yell "Die Hard, Die Hard, Die Hard!" facing due West toward the outer limits of the city where a certain Pen can only jump up and down in impotent fury...ah, love that!)

What were we talking about...oh, yeah. So writers write merrily along, building and shaping the story as they go, and eventually the day comes when they put that last period in place and go on a celebratory bender only to come back in the cold dawn and realize that it's revision time. Which means fixing what's broke and, when things are too broke to fix - or, more often, too irrelevant to fix - yanking sections out.

And that hurts. It hurts and burns and makes us feel all empty inside, because, see, it's always the sections you loved the best that have to go. Even if it was boring prose before, the minute you have to yank it out, it all turns brilliant. It's like when the quiet boy in your math class falls hard for you in seventh grade and you spurn him for several months until the day he realizes he actually loves some other girl and suddenly he's the cutest boy in the school and you will die without him. Yes, it's just like that.

Sometimes, cutting out that section makes the words and sentences left behind seem lifeless and dull, and you begin to panic because you've just removed the only bits that ever elevated your story in the first place. But wait, it's okay, because you've got this Word file you've started. If you're me, it's called Save For Later or some equally helpful thing. Just knowing it's there, tucked side by side with the manuscript on your hard drive, lets you resume breathing and revise another day.

But do you ever come back to the file?

No. Never. NE-VER. Not in a million years. Not if you were told to increase your word count from 80,000 to 800,000,000 - even then, you would never return to that sad little file. I don't really know why it is - and maybe the other Pens can figure it out - but those words are tainted now, and their file home is really a quarantine, or more accurately a tomb. Like the haunted house of childhood nightmares, words go marching in, but they never come out again.

I just re-read and realized that today's post might be one of the most extravagantly, irresponsibly directionless things I've written in ages. I apologize...see, my book just came out and its launch turned out to be a little more demanding than I expected. I'm playing the Newbie Card and hoping for forgiveness...


Adrienne Miller said...

I LOVE that I get ringside seats to this Sophie v Martha cage match. Makes me wanna get a grudge going. Any takers?
That's right...I'm looking at you, Gigi. ;-)

Hard Boiled Mysti said...

The great thing about blogs is they can meander a bit and still be wildly entertaining. No worries, Ms. Sophie!

I'm an "underwriter," my first drafts always come in short, missing secondary characters and subplots and themelets, all the things you ruthlessly cut in a screenplay.

After a few weeks of saving stuff, I get lazy/impatient/more trusting of myself. The first few weeks of a project generate most of the stuff in the junk, er, treasure file.

My Save For Later file has sections: cool lines of dialog that I might actually harvest later (10% chance!), and the bigger hunks that never get reused. But having ruined a piece with too much revision in my early days, saving the culls somewhere allows me to forget about them, whereas if I had the guts to dump them into bit heaven straight away, I'd just worry about those things I'd "lost." But of course most of it never gets revisited, if they were the right words I wouldn't be dithering over whether to cut them or not. And having written them once, of course I'll be able to write them as well or better later, if needed. If it were that good, I'd have the good sense not to cut it in the first place. But it doesn't feel that way at the start of every project so far.

I start out putting culls at the end of the book file, but when I've got about ten pages of junk (usually about the time I've got 7-10 pages of not-junk), I cut the culls out and into a new file because I start caring about the page count of the book file. Especially since certain people kick me in the patootie every now and then, I want a good story to tell about my progress!

Writers are lucky. Artists have to scrap the whole damn canvas if things get messed up enough. We are free to tinker forever. Wait, maybe that's not so lucky...


Sophie Littlefield said...

Oh yeah, that word count thing. that's why i always cut things *after* I do a Tools/Word Count. It sucks!!!

Love, potootiekicker

Martha Flynn said...

I know Sophie's cornering the market on pushups and gun totin' but when it comes to my love for Die Hard, I fight dirty.

Ya'll need to keep your filthy little mitts off my movie!!!!!!! Or else!!!!!!!!!

And as longa s we're talking about Deleted Scenes:

Lisa Hughey said...

I am a pacifist. I hate fighting. Sorry but you'll have to jump into the cage with someone else :)

You know if we bring in some cake balls and some cheetos I'm sure that we can avoid the Martha/Sophie cage match.... :)

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