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BEES Workmanship Example


Social media hashtags: #DailyLines, #GoTELLTheBESThatIAmGONE, #Noitisntdoneyet, #SOON, #workmanship, #example

2019-09-Brock-Beatrice-bee-cropA couple of days ago, I was reading a discussion about manuscript size in the LitForum, and a writer working on his first novel asked—“If you think your manuscript might be too long—how you decide which words to cut?”

He got a lot of useful answers and comments, and I answered him, too—but since my answer involved a snippet from BEES, I thought y’all might be interested in the technique, as well as the snip itself. (If you don’t care about writing techniques, but do want to read the excerpt, just scroll down to “FINAL(ISH) VERSION.”

Answer to the Question: “How do you decide which words to cut?”

You cut the ones you don’t need. The very last thing I do to a manuscript before sending it to the assorted editors (in US, UK and Germany) is what I call “slash-and-burn:” I go through it one word at a time, chanting (silently) “Do I need this word? Do I need this sentence? Do I need this paragraph? Do I need this scene?” And if the answer is no, I pull it out (mind you, I don’t throw them away (I value my work, whether I use it or not <g>); I just park them in a file called the Assembly Buffer and save it, so I can pull things back in if I change my mind or realize that I do need X because it’s attached to a later Y that won’t make sense if X isn’t somewhere, even if not where I originally put it).

Mind you, I do this in medias res, too; I don’t save it all for the final days. <g>

Here’s a brief passage, then its assembly buffer, and then the final (for now…) version:

[Excerpt below is non-spoilerish, but it is from GO TELL THE BEES THAT I AM GONE, Copyright © 2019 by Diana Gabaldon]:

ORIGINAL VERSION

Over the next few weeks, the—you couldn’t call them “warring,” nor even, really, “opposing”—but certainly “differing” approaches to God on offer at the Meeting House had collected their own adherents. Many people still attended more than one service—whether from an eclectic approach to ritual, a strong but undecided interest, a desire for society, if not instruction—or simply because it was more interesting to go to church than it was to sit at home piously reading the Bible out loud to their families.

Still, each service had its own core of worshippers, who came every Sunday, plus a varying number of floaters and droppers-in, and when the weather was fine, many people remained for the day, picnicking under the poplars and [elms?], comparing notes on the Methodist service versus the Presbyterian one—and as the congregations were largely Highland Scots possessed of strong personal opinions, arguing about everything from the message of the sermon to the state of the minister’s shoes.

…[omitted text (because it has a spoiler in it)]

After each of the morning services, I would take up a station under a particular huge horse-chestnut tree and run a casual clinic for an hour or so, dressing minor injuries, looking down throats, and offering advice (along with a surreptitious (because it was Sunday, after all) bottle of “tonic”—this being a decoction of raw but well-watered whisky and sugar, with assorted herbal substances added for the treatment of vitamin deficiency, alleviation of toothache or indigestion, or (in cases where I suspected its need) a slug of turpentine to kill hookworms.

Meanwhile, Jamie—often with Ian at his elbow—would wander from one group of men to another, greeting everyone, chatting and listening. Always listening.

“Ye canna keep politics secret, Sassenach,” he’d told me. “Even if they wanted to—and they mostly don’t want to—they canna hold their tongues or disguise what they think.”

“What they think in terms of political principle, or what they think of their neighbors’ political principles?” I asked, having caught the echoes of these discussions from the women who formed the major part of my pastoral Sunday surgery.

He laughed, but not with a lot of humor in it.

“If they tell ye what their neighbor thinks, Sassenach, it doesna take much mind-reading to ken what they think.”

“Do you think they know what you’re thinking?” I asked, curious. He shrugged.

“If they don’t, they soon will.”

ASSEMBLY BUFFER

(with explanation of changes—or not)

[I took these out because they weren’t necessary, and removing them improved the flow and clarity of the sentences.]

—you couldn’t call them “warring,” nor even, really, “opposing”—but certainly “differing”

—strong but

—[poplars and [elms?],]— Hmm. Do I want specifically-named trees, or should it just be “picnicking under the trees” for brevity? (Also, would you find elms in the North Carolina mountains in the 18th century, and would they be growing near poplars?) Normally, I go for specific details because it helps fix the scene visually, but not sure about this one… I mention a particular tree a little later in this passage, so I think this time, I’m going with “trees.” Shorter, and improves the rhythm and euphony of the sentence. This is background for what’s going to happen at the bottom of the page, so no need to embroider more than necessary.

being (plus assorted punctuation). Better clarity—and as this is Claire’s viewpoint and narrative, the sentence fragment is acceptable.

[I considered removing these (below), but didn’t:]

[if not instruction]—

[piously]— ditto, this one. Do I need that word? Yes, because it evokes a particular mental image that “reading the Bible” doesn’t quite cover. It’s also a judgement from Claire’s point of view—that’s how she sees the attitude of the Bible readers—and this is her voice.

[Punctuation and minor corrections.]

, and (the paragraphs here are rather long and dense-looking. I want to break up the sentences and make them more readable)

Add missing parenthesis after “hookworms.”

Change “decoction” to “concoction” (a decoction is boiled, which would drive off the alcohol from the whisky—and thanks to an alert reader of the original post who brought that to my attention!)

… [omitted material]

[ After each of the morning services, I would take up a station under a particular huge horse-chestnut tree and run a casual clinic for an hour or so, dressing minor injuries, looking down throats, and offering advice (along with a surreptitious (because it was Sunday, after all) bottle of “tonic”—this being a decoction of raw but well-watered whisky and sugar, with assorted herbal substances added for the treatment of vitamin deficiency, alleviation of toothache or indigestion, or (in cases where I suspected its need) a slug of turpentine to kill hookworms.]—

[Now, at first glance, this paragrah looks ripe for breaking up into shorter sentences and eliminating words, but I’m not going to. It’s a direct rendition of the way Claire thinks—in layers, referencing each other—and (more importantly <g&rt;) give a capsule sense of what her morning surgery under the horse-chestnut tree is actually like: a parade of assorted ailments and her quick handling of them to the best of her ability. This comes well into the book; readers with no patience for parentheses will have abandoned ship long since…]

The end part, I’m not changing anything. I normally fiddle enough with the dialogue and underpainting as I go that it’s pretty much as it should be, and this is clean. Sentences short and clear, but giving what they should in terms of information and attitude.

So—

FINAL(ISH) VERSION:

Over the next few weeks, the different approaches to God on offer at the Meeting House had collected their own adherents. Many people still attended more than one service, whether from an eclectic approach to ritual, an undecided interest, a desire for society, if not instruction—or simply because it was more interesting to go to church than it was to sit at home piously reading the Bible out loud to their families.

Still, each service had its own core of worshippers, who came every Sunday, plus a varying number of floaters and droppers-in. When the weather was fine, many people remained for the day, picnicking under the trees and comparing notes on the Methodist service versus the Presbyterian one. And being largely Highland Scots possessed of strong personal opinions, arguing about everything from the message of the sermon to the state of the minister’s shoes.

After each of the morning services, I would take up a station under a particular huge horse-chestnut tree and run a casual clinic for an hour or so, dressing minor injuries, looking down throats, and offering advice (along with a surreptitious (because it was Sunday, after all) bottle of “tonic”—this being a concoction of raw but well-watered whisky and sugar, with assorted herbal substances added for the treatment of vitamin deficiency, alleviation of toothache or indigestion, or (in cases where I suspected its need) a slug of turpentine to kill hookworms).

Meanwhile, Jamie—often with Ian at his elbow—would wander from one group of men to another, greeting everyone, chatting and listening. Always listening.

“Ye canna keep politics secret, Sassenach,” he’d told me. “Even if they wanted to—and they mostly don’t want to—they canna hold their tongues or disguise what they think.”

“What they think in terms of political principle, or what they think of their neighbors’ political principles?” I asked, having caught the echoes of these discussions from the women who formed the major part of my pastoral Sunday surgery.

He laughed, but not with a lot of humor in it.

“If they tell ye what their neighbor thinks, Sassenach, it doesna take much mind-reading to ken what they think.”

“Do you think they know what you’re thinking?” I asked, curious. He shrugged.

“If they don’t, they soon will.”


This excerpt and explanatory text is from GO TELL THE BEES THAT I AM GONE, Copyright © 2019 by Diana Gabaldon. Please do not copy and paste the text in this post (whole or in part) to any other webpage, social media account, or anywhere else. Kindly share this URL instead:

http://www.dianagabaldon.com/2019/09/bees-workmanship-example/

And thanks to Beatrix Brockman for sharing her lovely bee photo.


I also posted this excerpt and information about it in this blog on my official Facebook page on September 2, 2019.

6 Responses »

  1. I look forward to the next parts of Outlander.
    greetings from Warsaw

    Dana Sobieraj

  2. I think I liked “elms” better than trees. . . . the details sound more like the author I’ve come to know (smile).

    I also think “but not with a lot of humor in it” is still a bit awkward. . . wonder if (1) Jamie would have snorted (that Scottish noise) rather than laughed and (2) wondered about shortening “with not a lot of humor”, but don’t have a reasonable suggestion.

    No need to reply. Looking forward to books 9 & 10 and continuing to live the beginning of the nation vicariously!

  3. I am not a writer but I am completely obsessed with Outlander. I love the entire series of books, having read them all more than once. I appreciate your imagination and that you are willing to share it with the world. Thank you.

  4. What a joy to read this snippet of your long awaited “Bees”. I enjoy reading your method of writing as well as the story itself. As a dedicated and obsessed reader, I am drawn to writing also. That may or may not ever come to fruition, but no information is ever wasted, I believe. Your writing has ruined me for most other writers and I constantly feel that lack as I devour books anyway. Thank you for enlarging my world.

  5. I just bet this is a painful process. It reminds me a bit of how I have to weed out plants once they take root to give the keepers room to grow. I feel so apologetic when I go through this process, as if I’m killing something I brought to life. Well, that IS what I’m doing after all.

  6. Thank you for posting this Diana. I found this very interesting, as I often wonder as I read your books what your mental process is. Very generous of you, your the best!

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