Here’s how it works. The website starts with a simple three-word sentence:
Clicking any one of the three highlighted words expands the sentence. Here, I’ve clicked the word “tea.”
Clicking “I” provides more detail…
…as does clicking “made.”
As the user continues to click, additional words and phrases appear, with new highlights.
The creator of telescopictext.com, Joe Davis, has made this clever little tool freely available at a companion site, telescopictext.org. Users may create their own telescopic text, using their own starting sentence.
Teachers and home schoolers use the tool to encourage young writers to add details and description to their writing. Hey Milly’s lesson plan is particularly well-described. She uses the tool as a fun way to encourage her students to write about what they did over school vacation. For example, a ten-year-old might write “I went to the beach” and leave it at that. Telescopic Text motivates the student to add details, resulting in a much richer description, such as, “I strolled over to the stormy beach. The humungous waves crashed madly along the sparkling sand.…”
It makes sense to use the tool to encourage more descriptive writing. But when I discovered Telescopic Text, my mind was on reducing a 110,000-word first draft of a YA novel down to a lean, tight 60,000 words or less. As I clicked through Telescopic Text the first time, I grinned at all the unnecessary words appearing before my eyes, and thought about how important it is to choose only those details that advance the story, character, or setting.
Here is how the original text, “I made tea,” reads when it is expanded fully.
If this paragraph appeared in the draft of any novel or short story, it would have to be revised. So many unnecessary words! The telescopic text tool does not allow you to edit as freely as a word processor, so as a quick writing exercise, I typed the paragraph into a Word document and went to work.
Before editing Joe Davis’s “I made tea” piece, I had to decide on the purpose of the paragraph. Why is this here? What is it meant to evoke? I decided that the intent is to depict a character waking up the morning after some dismal event, which he or she is trying hard not to think about until fortified by a strong cup of tea. The character prefers to be meticulous, and is doing the best he or she can to gird against the day ahead, while surrounded by the disorder of yesterday.
Here is the same paragraph with my edits. It is still fairly long, but what remains does a better job conveying something about the character, without belaboring the details of the action. At least I hope it does.
You may disagree whether my revisions accomplish the intent, or you may think the paragraph could be more concise. That’s fine; this exercise is for demonstration purposes. My point is that it’s fine to “pants” through the first draft. But when the time comes to revise, it’s important to consider the intent of each piece, whether the piece is as large as a chapter or as small as an individual word. Ask yourself, “What does this chapter, this paragraph, this sentence, this word, contribute to the story as a whole?”
Sometimes it may turn out that all you need is, “I made tea.”
What’s your process for revision? What tools and approaches do you find helpful? Let us know in the comments.
 You may also disagree with the character’s method of brewing strong tea. My husband certainly would. Add the milk before the tea has brewed? Recipe for disaster!