Continued from last Sunday . . .
I delete fewer and fewer words as I go through draft after draft. For the novel I now have ready, I first wrote 212,000 words; then cut 86,000 in nineteen drafts.
Much deleting occurred between 1999 and 2005 when I completed Draft 13. However, earlier drafts were on “floppy” disks that aren’t compatible with this computer. Thus, the two samples presented here are much closer in form than I’d like to show you. Still, if you compare them sentence by sentence you’ll see the refining I did.
2005—Draft 13—245 Words
Early the next morning, I trekked down to the Jordan to spy on John. As the sun began to climb the vault of the heavens, I came to Elisha’s spring. There I knelt to dip my hand into the fresh water welling up from the red clay and drank deeply. It was now warm enough to remove my cloak.
Rising, I headed southeast, descending steep ravines and fording wadis swollen with water, which rumbled through the steep gorges seeking the Jordan. When the dry season began, only a trickle would reach the winding river.
As the sun drew the early morning rain back into the heavens, the day grew muggy. Heat shimmered like a spider’s dream as chirring locusts scoured the muddy path to the river. Beneath my tunic, rivulets of sweat trickled down my back and soaked the hair massed in the hollows of my armpits. Thistle from low-growing brambles and sweet-smelling acacias snared my tunic. Thus it was that I arrived at the ford of Bethabara stinking of sweat, with burrs puckering my clothes.
Pushing aside the plumed reeds, I joined the chattering pilgrims sitting on the embankment—chewing figs, spitting out pomegranate seeds, telling overblown tales. Besides subtle phrases spoken in Hebrew, I could hear the musical cadence of Greek and the more familiar Aramaic, spoken with a deep twang by peasants from the Galilee. Amidst this dissonance, I longed for the quiet of my courtyard and the tools of my trade.
Wikipedia photograph of the Jordan River
2012—Draft 19—180 words
Elisha’ spring gurgled forth from red clay. I splashed its sun-dappled water on my sweaty face, then refreshed my parched throat. Removing my cloak, I headed southeast, descending steep ravines and fording wadis swollen with water rumbling through the steep gorges toward the Jordan. Only a trickle would reach the winding river when the dry season began.
Heat shimmered like a spider’s dream as chirring locusts scoured the rutted path to the river. Rivulets of sweat soaked the back of my tunic. Thistle from low-growing brambles tangled my dusty tunic. Thus it was that I arrived at the ford of Bethabara stinking of sweat, with burrs puckering my clothes.
I pushed aside the plumed reeds, draping my cloak over a shrub. Chattering pilgrims thronged the embankment, chewing figs, spitting pomegranate seeds, telling overblown tales. Some spoke subtle phrases in Hebrew; others, the musical cadence of Greek. The multitude used the more familiar Aramaic, spoken with a deep twang by peasants from the Galilee. Amidst this dissonance, I longed for the quiet of my courtyard and the tools of my trade.
Now what can happen with that kind of writing—that is, going over and over a manuscript to delete words—is that the writer can suck the juices out of the words. They become stale. Not only to the writer, but also the reader. And that may be what has happened with this manuscript. Attempting to tighten, I may have removed the story’s savor. I’m interested in what you think.
Next Sunday I hope to explain how I arrived at the final draft after reading many contemporary novelists and studying how they craft their sentences.