Stepping Off the Boat
How do you determine what to withhold in your writing? When you have something to say it may be difficult to exercise restraint, though things unsaid can have as much value as what you choose to expose. How does your work change in revision? Do you find yourself adding more or do you approach your manuscript with a scythe?
It’s said that Torah, the Five Books of Moses, was written in black fire on white fire. The Hebrew words and the spaces that surround them were written (some believe implied) by God. It’s up to the reader to study the black words and white spaces in order to determine what God expects of His children on Earth. Rabbis, scholars, and laymen have pored over those scrolls for thousands of years, arguing interpretation and intent, spirituality and action. Passages are firmly explained, refuted by the next generation, discussed once again. Conclusions are never forgone.
The Bible is written with enormous gaps. We must imagine some passages and conversations because they aren’t in there. When God told Noah to build an ark and collect animals from all over the world, we have no idea what Noah said or thought. That part isn’t in the book, and it’s left to readers to visualize. Did he argue he was too old to build a boat, or try to beg off because of a fear of lions?
Centuries of commentary have drawn many conclusions but each new reader must determine for himself what happened within those empty spaces. Reading Torah promotes a healthy discourse about the gaps between the words. An engaged reader fills in the intentional blanks to glean details, purpose, value, and direction. The Torah reader fully immerses herself, gradually extrapolating meaning and context to apply to one’s own life. As God expects.
Kind of hard to best the Master.
When I completed my first novel, The Inlaid Table, it came in about 180,000 words. That was after culling lengthy descriptive (read boring) passages, entire chapters, and all the meaningless words (very, thing, some, nice, that, really – clutter without clarity.) I slashed the two chapters about the table’s secret journey to America during the Cold War, another about the main character’s vacillation over the trip to Poland, and the five chapters from the lost doll’s point of view. They’d all been reviewed and revised many times, and contained evocative descriptions and suspense. A few early readers loved them, but their contributions to the story were negligible. They added word count and some clever insights but not critical narrative. I cut down the book to 140,000 words by removing redundancies of all ilk (words, action, dialogue, characters) and anything that caused my attention to wane. If it didn’t tantalize the writer, what was it going to do to my poor reader? When it came down to so what, who cares? that’s when I knew I had to cut.
I also cut sections where I feel the reader can fill in with information sufficient to let the story move forward. Even if the reader fills with a scene that isn’t exactly what I envisioned, I’ll remove a section that feels like filler, or that drags the action into a dark closet.
Come read my books with an active mind. I’ll write but you must contribute as well – there are blanks. You have faith in me to craft a compelling story and I trust you to bring your intelligence to the pages. Like a puzzle with missing pieces, you’ll have to fill in the gaps. I’ll take the biggest risk by jumping into space by writing. You’ll connect by stepping off the boat as you read, paddling to stay afloat. Because I can’t do it all.
It’s the wonder of story that a writer’s solitary endeavor gets completed in the public forum. The act of writing is lonely work. I sit with pen and pad of paper or a computer on my lap and I write. Scratch scratch, tap tap. If God can leave spaces in the labyrinth of Torah through which I must wander to determine meaning, I trust you to do the same with my meager offering.
I write The End, and hope I’ve described enough to compel you to get to those final two words. I hope to soon launch my books into the public forum. It’s noisy out there, lots of people reading and posting reviews, chatting in book clubs, and sharing opinions. Come read with me. Come write with me.
Painting of Noah’s Ark, 11th century, artist unknown, courtesy Wikimedia Commons