Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Fact Tracks & Killing Babies

The current chapter I'm writing of Dr. Warson's back book is about the physics involved in riding. It's a very interesting examination of how Newton's Laws of Motion apply to different riding disciplines, and how the various forces encountered in those disciplines affect the rider's back.

It's not just about what happens to you when you fall (although some of the mechanics of that are discussed as well). No, it also explains what mechanical and physical laws come into play when you do everything right. It's quite eye-opening.

Now, Dr. Warson knows his stuff. I'm not the neuro-surgeon. He is. But my job is to make sure he comes across to the reader as clearly and as coherently as possible. To that end, I double check everything.

I don't take anything he says at face value. I'm not trying to be difficult -- it's my job to make sure the book is right. So, when he talks about Newson's three Laws of Motion, I double check to make sure that he's got the right concepts for the three, and that he's got them in the right order. I also make sure that the photo ideas and text examples are appropriate.

Sometimes, the co-author's (or ghostwriter's) job is not to check the facts that are included in a project, but to weed out the facts that don't belong. In the case of our current chapter, the source material Dr. Warson provided me is full of fascinating biophysical factoids. It's not that they don't belong in a book. They just don't all belong in this book.

I came across one such piece of information today. Dr. Warson is quite attached to it, and really wants it included. I wrote it up. It's currently in the text. But it's earmarked for exclusion if the project runs long and needs whittled down to an acceptable word count.

"You've got to be willing to kill your babies," are famous words of advice to screenwriters, but they apply equally well to all writing -- fiction, non-fiction, poetry, and more. Sometimes we can become so enamored with a character, a scene, or an entire chapter that we fail to see how much the work would be improved without it. It's often worth our while, however, to see if losing a pet phrase or excising a favorite fact is really in the best interests of the project as a whole.

The particular "baby" that inspired this post is still with us. But its days are numbered...