Do you remember the trend for 'Come As You Are' parties, where the host would round up all their friends without warning and drag them away – curlers, bathrobes and all – for prawn cocktails, cheese and pineapple hedgehogs, LSD and whatever else they had back then?
No, neither do I, thank God.
Such events are (I hope) a thing of the past, only surviving as the source of much contrived hilarity in vintage sitcoms. The thought has occurred to me, however, that if my writing were invited to a 'come as you are' party, I would want it to step straight out the door looking effortlessly glam, not to hide behind the sofa afraid to be seen with greasy hair and an egg-stained string vest.
Where is this dodgy analogy leading? Well, as I approach the fine-tuning stage of novel 2, I want to make sure each sentence is the best it can be and ready to sparkle if suddenly invited out by an agent or publisher.
Buried somewhere in a 100,000-word manuscript, perhaps a sentence can afford to slob around, hoping that the pace of the narrative will distract the reader from the fact it's not up to scratch. But there's only so much one can get away with – become too complacent and the substandard bits soon add up to a congealed cheese fondue of tedium.
So I'm trying out a new editing trick. I scroll through my manuscript and stop at random. Then I pick the first sentence I see, and write it out longhand on a blank page. Then I look at it critically. Does it still shine, without the story to hide in? Is it flabby or clichéd or even redundant?
If I had to post it online without changing anything, would I be embarrassed? Would I feel compelled to explain that the rest of the book is much better, honest guv – it's just this bit that needs work? Would I be prepared to read it out to an audience... or would I cringe and search for a better example?
I want to end up with work I'm proud to send out in public, and this method shows up weaknesses that I might otherwise skim over. It does, of course, rely on the structure, characterisation and plot being all worked out – if they aren't in place then there's no point going into detail. For the final stages of editing, however, isolating sentences can be an illuminating exercise.
Perhaps one day they'll get that unexpected call and become the life and soul of a publisher's party.
Thank you to Cole Henley for the photo of a scrumptious hedgehog