page links

Pumping Iron: Exercises in scaffolding

Thursday, March 10, 2011

I'm editing like a freak, yo. Taking out all my scaffolding.

Do you know about scaffolding? It's a word we toss around at the newspaper. I'm not sure who invented the concept, so feel free to learn me if you know. But it's basically how it sounds. It's the support beams that go on a structure to hold it up as it's being built. But when the thing is done, you take the scaffolding away and the building looks prettier.

There's nothing wrong with scaffolding. You kind of need it to get your shiz out on the page. If you try to make every sentence perfectly tight while writing, you'll go insane and end up eating your earrings whole. No one wants to pass a rhinestone hoop.

I've been going through every sentence and taking out as much as I can. I've already cut a couple thousand words, which is OK, because some of the plot needs work and I'll end up adding new words. Things on my kill radar include redundancies, adverbs that suck, "thats", directionals, "ing"-words that could be "ed" words, cliches, cliches, cliches. 

Since I'm sitting here alone in my XXL pajama pants eating questionably-old leftovers from the fridge, I figured it's a good time to bring you into the process. Below, you'll find an unedited passage. Below that, I've highlighted all the scaffolding. And below that, behold the new product. At least for this draft.

Lez go!

ONE

There was a long, awkward silence while I decided what to say next, if anything at all. I rolled onto my side and sat up, reaching for the open container of Chinese food that sat on the foot locker. I plunged two fingers into the carton and grabbed some cold noodles, lowering them into my mouth. The noodles flopped outside my lips. It was all I could do to chew.
    “I’m in mourning.”
    Nicole stopped tossing Diet Coke cans into a trash bag and looked at me with the most sad expression I’ve ever seen come across her face. It was the look someone gives a dog as it lays dying on the side of the road. It was the look a mother gives her child after the child does not make the junior varsity pep squad. It was the look I usually gave the television during those “five cents a day” commercials about adopting kids from Darfur. It was the look of unbridled, pathetic pity.
    “Well,” she said, picking up shards of mirror glass with her bare hands, “you shouldn’t have ignored our calls like that. We were afraid something happened to you, too.”
    “I’m sorry, Nicole,” I grabbed another fist of noodles. “I’m a mess right now. I don’t really want to talk about it, but I’ll be OK. See? No track marks.” I pushed my sleeve up and flashed a bare arm.
    She dropped the bag of trash into the wastebasket and walked back over to me. I finally got a good look at her. She wore a pair of black slacks and a baby blue polo shirt with the name of the concert venue where she worked embroidered on the chest. Her hair was loose and wavy and her lipstick was soft pink instead of red. She wore a tiny leopard-print bow in her hair with a skull in the middle. It was still Nicole, but a softer version. A more maternal version. A version who was taking care of her little sister out of sheer love, no questions asked.
    If she only knew, I thought.

TWO

There was a long, awkward silence while I decided what to say next, if anything at all. I rolled onto my side and sat up, reaching for the open container of Chinese food that sat on the foot locker. I plunged two fingers into the carton and grabbed some cold noodles, lowering them into my mouth. The noodles flopped outside my lips. It was all I could do to chew.
    “I’m in mourning.”
    Nicole stopped tossing Diet Coke cans into a trash bag and looked at me with the most sad (note - ew) expression I’ve ever seen come across her face. It was the look someone gives a dog as it lays dying on the side of the road. It was the look a mother gives her child after the child does not make the junior varsity pep squad. It was the look I usually gave the television during those “five cents a day” commercials about adopting kids from Darfur. It was the look of unbridled, pathetic pity.
    “Well,” she said, picking up shards of mirror glass with her bare hands, “you shouldn’t have ignored our calls like that. We were afraid something happened to you, too.”
    “I’m sorry, Nicole,” I grabbed another fist of noodles. “I’m a mess right now. I don’t really want to talk about it, but I’ll be OK. See? No track marks.” I pushed my sleeve up and flashed a bare arm.
    She dropped the bag of trash into the wastebasket and walked back over to me. I finally got a good look at her. She wore a pair of black slacks and a baby blue polo shirt with the name of the concert venue where she worked embroidered on the chest. Her hair was loose and wavy and her lipstick was soft pink instead of red. She wore a tiny leopard-print bow in her hair with a skull in the middle. It was still Nicole, but a softer version. A more maternal version. A version who was taking care of her little sister out of sheer love, no questions asked.
    If she only knew, I thought.

THREE

There was an awkward silence while I decided what to say next. I sat up and reached for the open container of Chinese food. I plunged two fingers into the carton and grabbed some cold noodles, lowering them into my mouth. The noodles flopped. It was all I could do to chew.
    “I’m in mourning.”
    Nicole stopped tossing Diet Coke cans into a trash bag and looked at me with the saddest expression I’ve ever seen. It was the look someone gives a dog as it lays dying in the road. The look a mother gives when her child does not make junior varsity pep squad. The look I gave the television during “five cents a day” commercials about kids from Darfur. The look of unbridled, pathetic pity.
    “Well,” she said, picking up shards of mirror, “you shouldn’t have ignored our calls. We were afraid something happened to you, too.”
    “I’m sorry.” I grabbed another fist of noodles. “I’m a mess right now. I don’t really want to talk about it, but I’ll be OK. See? No track marks.” I flashed a bare arm.
    She dropped the bag into the wastebasket. I finally got a good look at her. She wore black slacks and a baby blue work shirt. Her hair was loose and wavy and her lipstick was soft pink instead of red. She had a tiny leopard-print bow in her hair with a skull in the middle. It was still Nicole, but a softer version. A more maternal version. A version who was taking care of her little sister out of sheer love.
    If she only knew.

Ta-da! Try it. It's fun!

2 comments :

  1. I love this approach. My fiction always gets cluttered with unecessary words. What is your novel about, title? Mine is titled "Becoming Blue"

    ReplyDelete
  2. I'm superstitious about putting it here, so I'll email it to you. :)

    ReplyDelete