Carving Words & Editing Stone
D. Paul Angel
I read Victoria Griffin’s post about editing earlier this week and began thinking about my own take on edits. I was reminded of a stone carving class I took years ago, and our instructor talking about how the tactile nature of sculpture differentiated it from other artistic pursuits. It’s not enough to just look at sculptures, you have to touch them as well. While I’m sure a lot of art museums may take issue with that, there is a lot of Truth behind it since, in addition to all the other variables, sculpture allows you literal control over how it feels.
Sculpture tends to be either additive or subtractive, with stone carving definitively falling into the latter category. My approach, philosophically, was that the sculpture, the Art, is already inside the stone; it is merely to the sculptor to release it. I am slowly finding editing to be a similar process. As I write my first draft I am trying to just get the concept out. I’m creating the form, shape, and boundaries of my creation. I am, in essence, creating the “stone” from which I shall make my “carving.” Sometimes the form you create is so close to your vision that the only tasks remaining are to chip off a couple rough spots (fix internal consistencies) and polish it (stoopid typos!).
Other times, most of the time really, what my first draft creates is merely a shape, with the details of my vision still locked behind a layer, or three, of stone. That’s where the magic of editing becomes more of an art and less of a task in recursive grammarianing. The details are there, the final form is all there, it just needs to be eased out. So another pass is done and more of the figure can be seen. Sometimes the changes are huge, as entire paragraphs are changed, shifted, added, and abandoned. As this happens my sculpture’s shape takes on huge changes as well, shifting from merely a reclining woman to an angel.
Then, with the final shape taken, another pass is made and the large pick gives way to a smaller, finer chisel, if not a rasp. This isn’t about the difference between an angel and a woman anymore, or whether her arms are held out or tucked in, this is about whether her eyes are open or closed. The kind of details that spur a story, and the reader’s imagination, along without slowing down the narrative. These are the hidden gems in writing that you can feel as you carve as being right. To me, this is the first true release of the vision.
But there’s one step more. Sculpture allows more than shape and form, it allows texture. This is where editing lets me choose my story’s tone, and allows me to give depth to my characters’ voices. A coarse robe on my angel conveys a different sense of her elevation than a smoothly polished one. That is the layer of texturing and tone that can ripple across your entire story. It is the difference between wrinkles earned from a lifetime of laughing or a lifetime of frowning, and it is the sleight of hand upon on which satire, twists, and who-dunits rely.
There is no part of your story which you do not wholly control, so embrace it, enjoy it, and sculpt bravely!