Hide Your Process

Do up as many buckles as you like, but the next time around, drop the ones you don’t want or need.

When people beat around the bush at the beginning of a section, easing in through atmosphere, tentative explorations of its ideas, and lots of unnecessary adverbs and adjectives, this usually means I’m reading their process. They’ve just woken up or come back from a break. They don’t know what they want to say until they’ve said it, and they’re settling into thinking like writers.

This is just what you need to get rid of. Your audience isn’t there to vicariously experience you figuring things out. They’re there for the result.

Here’s an example of process-laden writing (made up for this article):

Are the sorcerers of Tharn working to call the gods home, or to trap them in mortal shells so they can destroy them with their signature curses? Outside opinions run the gamut, with a minority who believe the sorcerers are united in summoning the gods, but bitterly divided over what to do with them should they be pulled from their thrones for an audience with the Supreme Circle, the Tharnites’ leadership.

What’s happening here is I don’t know what the sorcerers of Tharn want beyond something to do with the gods until I write it down. To give myself time to think, I belt out this “opinions run the gamut,” nonsense, which is useless because I’m not saying whose opinions they are. I also apparently don’t care what most people believe, because I think “a minority” has the only take worth talking about. Finally, in the end I get an idea about who runs the organization and jot it down then and there, even though it might not be the right section. Similarly, “signature curses” is an on-the-spot idea that needs to move to another place where I can talk about it, or some improved description in situ, because by itself, “signature curses” is almost meaningless.

So, in revision, I’d change it this way:

All sorcerers of Tharn want to summon the gods, but the order’s Demiurgists would ask to be their successors, while members of the Ascendant faction want to kill the gods, consume their essences, and seize the Thrones Eternal. The sorcerers present a united front to outsiders, so few know of this split.

This remodeling is probably a bit more than what I would actually do in my own work, but I wanted a clear example. In revision I already know that the sorcerers of Tharn are split into god-entreating and god-eating camps, so I have the freedom to get across this information as directly as possible. Not only that, but I now have presence of mind and spare words to give these factions names. Instead of the boredom of talking about what anonymous people think, I can explain the reasons this knowledge is obscure. The revision might be a shorter chunk of text, but that isn’t the point. It’s all about the ideas now, instead of the process of me getting around to them.

Look for similar issues throughout your work. Infamous examples are when writers talk about featureless spaces when they’re warming up (the space is the blank page!), out of place food references (the writer is hungry), and convoluted game mechanics in otherwise simple systems (the extra steps are unnecessary except as part of the designer’s thought process).

And just so you know: Following this principle, I deleted about the first two and a half paragraphs of this article.

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