Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Shear Your Darlings


WRITER: Where?

VOICE IN THE DARKNESS: In the darkness.

Writer switches on light.

SHEEP: There you go.

WRITER: (points) It’s you. You’re back.

SHEEP: I never left. I’ve been waiting. (turns in a circle) Look at me! Aren’t I magnificent?

WRITER: You’re certainly….


WRITER: Wait. I’m searching for the right word.

SHEEP: (sighs) That’s not a good sign.

WRITER: Shhhh. Wooly. That’s the word.

SHEEP: I was going for luxuriant, but wooly will do.

WRITER: Why are you so wooly?

SHEEP: Because, it’s time to shear. Shear me.

WRITER: But all that wool-growing must have taken time.

SHEEP: It did. Weeks. Months. Concentrated hours of growing. Great swathes of time devoted to lengthening the wool. 

WRITER: And you want me to shear you?

SHEEP: This wool isn’t doing me any good. It’s hot. It’s tangled.  How can it get made into stylish garments or accessories if it stays attached?

WRITER: You have a point.

SHEEP: I’m not Rapunzel.

WRITER: I get it.

SHEEP: (tilts head) Do you?


SHEEP: Well done. I’ll make a writer out of you yet.

WRITER: I'll get out the shears.

SHEEP: Oh. Just in case this hasn’t all been a metaphor about editing a manuscript, could you take some of the wool and knit some booties for the royal baby?

WRITER: I’ll see what I can do.

Elspeth Futcher is a bestselling author of murder mystery games and playwright. She has been the top selling author at since 2011. Her British games are published by Red Herring Games in the UK. Her latest game is The Great British Bump Off. Elspeth's 'writing sheep' are a continuing feature in the European writers' magazine Elias and also appear on this blog from time to time. Connect with her on Twitter at @elspethwrites or on Facebook at Elspeth Futcher, Author.


  1. Editing isn't easy. It's hard enough to get the words out, and cutting them feels like torture!

    Morgan Mandel

  2. I love the analogy. I agree with Morgan. It's hard to cut out words, but it feels so good (sorry, Morgan) when the book is leaner. I'm working on a bloated manuscript right now. I need to cut out about 40,000 words. As the book leans out, it reads so much quicker, better. Whew! Like losing weight. Just have to keep at it.

  3. I write spare, so editing for me means adding words. :)

  4. I think I've just had ... well, you-know-what pulled over my eyes.

  5. Love it. Editing isn't always about finding a better word or adding in more detail. We always have to ask of our masterpiece's components, "So what?"

  6. Morgan; It's not easy, is it? I always find the discipline a real shock of cold water after the anything-goes approach with which I write first drafts.

    Betsy; Best of luck on your journey!

    Diana; Sometimes, that's what it means for me too!

    Christopher; Watch where you step!

    susanissima; Excellent point! Thanks for taking the time to leave a comment.

  7. What fun. I always look forward to your posts, and love the sheep. I'm sure he, or she, will be back with more subtle writing tips.

  8. Oh! Sheep at last! Contact me. I have an idea :)

  9. The sheep is back. Very funny, and I did catch on to the metaphor right away. Perfect description of where I am with my WIP.

  10. Maryann; How lovely of you to say that you look forward to my posts; thank you! As for the sheep...he/she/they tend to appear from time to time.

    Christine; I will!

    Patricia; We're there together.

  11. Love the sheep. I've been trying something recommended by another author: For the 1st 50 pages, read from page 1 every time you start writing. Amazing how much leaner the work is (of course, if you watch word count, progress will seem slower, but the product will be stronger.)
    Terry's Place

  12. Terry; Is this while working on a second draft or first? If it's a first draft, I know for sure I'd never get 50 pages written! I'd be stuck perfecting that first paragraph for the next year.

    1. I've always edited as I go, but normally only the previous scene. This is a first time trial of this method. I'm not looking for "perfection" but I do try to take care of making sure there are no glaring holes. Since I'm an "organic" writer, I discover new stuff, so it helps me to go back an fill in the 'foreshadowing' and gaps. Right now, I've discovered there are problems with chronology, so I can fix those.

  13. This is great! Love the metaphor. And it's so true! Even though I also write spare and often need to flesh things out, there are phrases and words that can be cut, or finding better ways to say something. Good post!

  14. First novelists always fear shearing the sheep. The novel looks so lean without the tangle you describe. But once they learn to weave a new coat from the underlying muscles and bones that provide movement, they find that instead of adding back more tangled wool, they've added back a fine garment interwoven with interesting and relevant threads. Okay, maybe not right away—it may take a few more shearings—but they'll get there, and be glad they did!

  15. So true, so true, Elspeth. I cut more than 20,000 words from my first novel and nearly cried over some of the eloquent passages I sheered. But it was so much better without that tangled weight -- no matter how lovely I thought it was.

  16. Heidi; Thanks!

    Kathryn; You're so right. Thank you for adding your wise words.

  17. Linda; It's a tough lesson to learn, isn't it?


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