Monday, April 4, 2011

Editing--"Skipping the Door"

This is the opening paragraph to Sherman Alexie's short story "Breaking and Entering" as it appears in his book War Dances:

"Back in college, when I was first learning how to edit film--how to construct a scene--my professor, Mr. Baron, said to me, 'You don't have to show people using a door to walk into a room.  If people are already in the room, the audience will understand they didn't crawl through a window or drop from the ceiling or just materialize.  The audience uderstands that a door has been used--the eyes and mind will make the connection--so you can just skip the door.'

...'Skip the door' is a good piece of advice--a maxim, if you will--that I've applied to my entire editorial career, if not my entire life.  To state it in less poetic terms, one would say, 'An editor must omit all unnecessary information.'"

I read this after a long day during which many of my hours were spent editing other people's work and encouraging still others to consider undertaking substantial editing on their own.  If only we all had this text in common and I could have typed "Skip the door," and they all would have known precisely what I meant, and thereby I could have edited a good deal of myself.  Of course such shorthand rarely exists, at least not outside the context of contained classroom, one where the good students will, after years have passed, find themselves writing extraneous material when suddenly they remember a teacher telling them to "Skip the door," perhaps even skipping as (s)he says the phrase like Alexie's character does, and they'll begin the necessary and satisfying task of striking through sentence after sentence, watching language curl and skrink like bacon in a frying pan.

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