As I was saying yesterday…was it yesterday? No, it was the day before. I was at the college yesterday. I have no life on college days. It’s all college all the day. So it must have been the day before. It was sunny and hot. I don’t like heat. Don’t have the system for it. I come from strong Pacific Northwest stock. Webs between my toes and moss on my back. Hate heat.
What was I talking about? I was trying to make a point…
We’re all guilty of this when we speak, especially in informal situations with friends. That’s how conversations go. When it comes to hitting the publish button, all this dribble must go.
Print it out. Take a highlighter or red pen and carefully circle the point where you got to the point.
Draw a line under the point until you stop making your point.
Lift the pen and drop it down when you get back on track again.
Keeping doing this through the article until the end.
What do you see.
This technique is the reverse of traditional red pen editing. Red ink across the page is a sign of corrections, things that need to be fixed. This exercise is the reverse. If you mostly see red, you did fantastic. The underlined areas are the things to keep. If you see only a little red ink, you are in trouble and have more tangents than points.
It is often a shock to see the red not bleeding all over the page. As a professional writer, I think I’m an excellent writer. I believe that I have a way with words, not a perfect way, but a talent and skill all the same. When I see a page with four spots of red against 800 words, I realize that I lost my way along the story.
This doesn’t mean that everything that isn’t underlined must go. It is an exercise in concise editing, focusing on the words and phrases within your article that are required essential to the story you are telling. If the words not highlighted in red don’t count, toss them. If they support the point you are trying to make, underline them.
Your blog exercise today is to do the above assignment. What do you see?
Do you see solid red, or only a little red?
When doing this exercise with a group of students, one young man let slip, “I sound like my grandfather.”
He wasn’t disparaging the elderly. His father was just beginning to experience dementia. A conversation with him could go through time and space as well as relativity in a single paragraph. In 30 minutes, he would tell the same story five times thinking it was the first time, experiencing events much like those who encountered The Silence in Doctor Who, forgetting what happened a moment ago and repeating themselves.
To quote from another Doctor Who episode, The Name of the Doctor, the Doctor describes the twisting paths of light represents his life and death:
Time travel is damage. It’s like a tear in the fabric of reality. That is the scar tissue of my journey through the universe. My path through time and space. From Gallifrey to Trenzalore.
Tangents can make or break a story being told. Time traveling tangents, moving the reader or listener on a bouncing ride through time and your story usually leads to motion sickness unless presented in the hands of an expert.
Tangents may support the spine of the story, adding to the breadth and color of the tale. Or they are scars, tears in the fabric of reality that confuses others because they don’t need the whole story, every gritty unrelated detail, to get the point.
If you would like to discuss this, you may do so here in the comments, or blog about the lesson you learned and link here to create a trackback.