I started what turned into a lively thread about this on Facebook last week, when I shared a couple of my copy editor's deletions from the manuscript she'd just returned to me. "Blinked
Comments were of two main types.
A lot of writing pals fessed up to having their characters endlessly shrug their shoulders, nod their heads, and even kneel down on their knees. We shared a collective "duh".
Even more pals sprang to my defence (and so I should think!), pointing out that writing a novel isn't like writing a memo. You're not just trying to get the bare meaning across. You're also trying for rhythm, style, voice, and the whole big glorious gulp of being drunk on words.
Why, though, would that even need to be said? Where did the idea come from that cutting is king and stetting has to be argued, that spare prose is inherently better than luxurious prose, that less is always, always more. I mean, yes of course, hooray for Hemingway. But what about Dickens? I still devour every word Joan Didion writes, but I'd hate to be without Joyce Carol Oates for the other 362 reading days of the year.
We know where it came from, don't we? Strunk and White's "omit needless words" has to be the most misused piece of writing advice ever. And what a survivor! The Elements of Style came out in 1959 and we're still in thrall. To guys whose writing skills couldn't handle the existence of women. Well, pardon me, but I'm going to take my cue from people who're not vanquished by the pronoun system of such a straightforward language as English. Imagine if they'd tried Hungarian with its 14+ cases. They'd be lying down with a cool cloth on their heads.
So. Strunk and White. I'm not a fan. And Elmore Leonard didn't help either, although I'm pretty sure he was kidding. In either case, I give them all a raspberry and, above, you'll have noticed me deliberately giving you a sentence with three "that"s and a repeated adverb. You didn't? What can I say?
Deliberateness is the key, for me. Intent and purpose are another two words for it. Okay, I'll stop now. Tics on the other hand are what we do thoughtlessly. They're first draft things. Needless words are the words we think the better of when we edit. But editing out style, voice, rhythm and humour (oh yes, I've had an editor take out jokes because sentences could be tighter without them and they add nothing to the great god meaning) . . . editing out the joy? Why would you do that?
I wouldn't. I didn't. I wrote "stet - rhythm" "stet - idiom" and "stet - voice" all over the manuscript. But I didn't, in the end, specify what the character blinked. I bet no one emails to ask me..