I hate unpacking. While I am a meticulous, organized, and orderly packer of la valise before I leave town, I’ve been known, upon my return home, to leave an unpacked bag on my bedroom floor for days. (okay, for a week, or weeks) Who wants to come back from a great trip and ruin the high by sorting through that mess?
Last week I learned about a different kind of unpacking: unpacking sentences. How once you’re further along in the writing/editing/rewriting of your book — well beyond the earliest drafts — you have to begin asking new questions of the story. You have to start unpacking each sentence (yes, one by one) to see how much more you can do.
What does this sentence add?
Does it serve the storyline, or is it just taking up real estate?
What more could you do with this sentence, with this paragraph, if you honed in on its purpose?
Is your language clear or are you skating by with fillers —- passive verbs, unnecessary adverbs, meaningless words like “it” and “thing” and “really” and “very”?
Does that metaphor make the sentence clearer, or does it seem forced?
When I got home from this last 10 day trip, I did what I rarely, if ever, do: I unpacked. Before I could put a dozen other chores on my to-do list, I opened my suitcase and faced all the dirty, disorganized clothes and shoes and toiletries and books. I even washed and dried and put every last bit away. It took all day. It wasn’t any fun.
I suspect the sentence unpacking I’m about to start will feel the same. Too bad I can’t just throw these 300+ pages in with some Tide and a cupful of Downy Free & Sensitive, and watch them spin.