Unpacking

th+(1)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?

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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.

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15 thoughts on “Unpacking

  1. jpon

    Clarity of language–that always seems to be the toughest. Even when it’s crystal clear to me, it may not be for the reader. Perhaps if I add a cup of bleach…

    1. Teri Post author

      I’ve used a lot of bleach over the last year. It’s hard to watch all those words disappear, especially since they must have seemed perfect at some point along the way.

  2. Erika Marks

    Welcome home! I’m with you on the unpacking–ugh. But oh what goodies you come back with! I love this idea of unpacking sentences and words. I’m doing a bit of that right now.

    Hope this year’s event was every bit as glorious as the one before. Bet there are a few fur babies glad to see you home.

    1. Teri Post author

      Ah, the unpacking of sentences. Tune in later this week when all of my chapters will be laid out on the garage floor — the only space big enough, and walking without dog paws — looking for where they really belong. Ugh.

      While I was away, JoJo went to doggie camp where she met her first horses and played fetch with little kids. Doggie Heaven.

  3. Downith

    Agree with Erika, I really like the idea of unpacking sentences. HOw was the reunion with the dogs?

    (Downy Fabric Softener was one of my many nicknames back in the day.)

    1. Teri Post author

      I sure do like the idea of unpacking sentences a lot better than actually unpacking them. I have to keep myself from thinking, “If there are 300+ pages, and X=# of paragraphs on the page, which means an average of Y-# of sentences …. Maybe I’ll just go get an ice cream cone instead.

  4. Averil Dean

    I am selfishly, greedily in love with this post. This is what I need to be doing as I work through my draft, and it’s what I’ve neglected. Last night after I read about your unpacking, I had an epiphany about my first chapter and the way I’ve complicated it unnecessarily. I could hug your neck right now.

    Also, my suitcases stay packed for at least a week when I get home. And don’t even get me started about the loads of laundry in the dryer…

    1. Teri

      I’ve also been doing some unnecessary complicating of the story, me and my fancy (and completely unnecessary, confusing) time shifts, tense shifts, etc… Fancy does not equal better.

  5. suzy vitello

    The unpacking craze has really caught on, and I think it means different things to different writers.

    For me, it always means, if you think you’ve gone to the smallest, deepest thing, you’re wrong. You can always get smaller. Go deeper. In recent years I’ve begun to see the need to unpack sentences while pushing a story forward as a strange, confounding, yet exhilarating challenge. Like surfing, sort of. It’s this crazy balance, and if you lurch off too far in either direction, you hit the wash cycle.

    1. Teri Post author

      It really is like surfing, everything on the balance. And I’m with you Suzy — as much work as it is, I love the challenge.

  6. LauraMaylene

    I got back last night, late, and of course my suitcase is still unpacked. I’m forcing myself to do it tonight, though.

    I’m actually worse at putting my clean laundry away. I often pick clean clothes out of the laundry basket up until I need to clear out those clean clothes to wash another load. Laundry elves, it seems, do not actually exist.

  7. Josey

    i just left a comment about how much the idea of unpacking sentences intimidates me and it was eaten by wordpress. i’m taking that as a sign to keep my mouth shut.

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