I was taught that every scene, every line, every word, should do one of two things: Advance the plot or build a character.
Even when this standard is met, there's still the issue of wordiness. If you can say something using 5 words, don't use 50. Hell, don't even use 6. Few books look good in purple.
Sounds easy enough (not!) and you're confident all unnecessary words have been eliminated. Then the noble editor arrives, charging into the fray on a white horse, sword in hand, ready to cut, slice and kill all irrelevancies. This scene, for instance!
This was a scene I loved, but the editor suggested it be eliminated or, at the very least, be shortened to speed the pace. Hearing those words...it felt like my heart had been ripped out of my chest Indiana Jones style. Still, I wasn't going to risk seven years of bad luck by arguing with an editor. :)
There were some character insights I wanted to keep, so I opted to re-work this scene into a shorter version. It's gone from the story, but remains within my melodramatic soul.
Rise at the Clinic
She crushed down the trash, but was intercepted by Tammy, a Veterinary Technician with a long string of initials after her name from various specialty degrees. Common courtesy 101 was not part of the curriculum.
“Put this person in exam one.” She thrust a file at Rise and kept walking.
Rise looked down at the client record in her hand. “I don’t know how.” She’d only been trained in janitorial duties.
“Jesus Christ,” Tammy hissed, striding back. “Go out there. Call the name and put the dog on the scale.” She was talking deliberately slow. “Write down the weight. See this little line where it says ‘weight’? Right there. Ask the owner what’s wrong and write it down it this big, white area. Then put the chart on the door. It’s not rocket science. I’ll take care of the part that requires actual skill.”
Tammy blew out of the room, and Rise took a moment to process the situation. She didn’t want to make a mistake, especially not after Tammy’s comments. Rise headed to the lobby and tried to look natural, like she did this job every day. Doctor Mark was still out there with his potential next ex-wife, and Rise hoped he noticed how she was going out of her way to be helpful. She could use a raise.
“So, what seems to be the problem with Picasso today?” Rise asked once she had the client in the room. The dog was some sort of mixed breed, all different colors with a curling tail going in circles so fast it was a miracle she didn’t propel off the ground.
“She’s a rescue,” the woman said, and Rise had to attune her hearing to understand the accent that was like something out of a movie. “All of my dogs are rescues, okay?”
It sounded like she said ‘oil of my dogs are rez-cues’ and Rise tried not to laugh. How this woman came to be in Indianapolis was probably a great story.
Rise wrote down ‘rescue’ on the chart and nodded.
“I never had problems with any of my dogs before,” the woman continued and she waved her hand. Her nails were at least three inches long and bright red. “But this one, I have a problem with. I love my dog, okay?”
“She uses the bathroom on the floor, even though she knows she’s supposed to go outside. I think she does it just to make me mad, because like I said, she knows she’s supposed to go out. And she barks when it rains.”
“She barks?” Rise had to stop herself from saying ‘bachs’.
“All the time, when it rains! And it rains a lot here, on account of all the farms. I know the rain is good for the corn, but it’s not good for my dog.”
Rise wrote that down, the important parts anyway. She left out the stuff about the corn.
“So I’ve got no history about this dog, I adopted her from the shelter back in New Jersey. That’s where we’re from.”
“Never would’ve guessed,” Rise whispered, far too quiet for the woman to hear.
“So I’m thinking the dog might have been born with a mental problem; maybe she got it from the mother? Or maybe she’s not a smart dog, I dunno, I’m not a doctor. But my husband, he works over at the pharmaceutical company now, right? He tells me that drug, the one for the suicidal women, you know which one I mean? He tells me dogs can take it. Is that right?”
Rise stared at the woman, remembering why she preferred dealing with dog shit over people. She had no idea what to write down or how to answer the question. Picasso was sniffing at her feet and she patted her head, stalling.
“You’ll need to ask Doctor Mark about that.” That was the go-to answer when techs didn’t know the answer.
“Well yeah, that’s why I drove all the way over here with my dog. I love my dog, but I can’t have a dog that uses the bathroom in the house. And the barking at the rain! I tell her, ‘no bark Picasso, no bark!’ But that doesn’t work with her.”
“I totally understand.” Rise added another falsehood to the list she was racking up today. Picasso looked to be a nice dog; she was sitting now, with her tongue hanging out.
Rise retreated from the exam room a little defeated. She caught up with Tammy and did her best to explain the situation, but the tech just rolled her eyes. Rise had no idea what that meant. She went back to getting the trash.