Thursday, June 9, 2011

Not Getting Anywhere

My kids and I tell stories most nights before we get to bed. It's an exercise in off-the-cuff storytelling. The listeners are allowed to pick one item each (an animal, a straw, a pillow, a bar of soap, etc.), and then the storyteller creates a story with the items.

My kids do pretty well at using the items, yes, and we have a great time giggling. But as listeners, we often urge the storyteller to "get on with it." That's because the storyteller sometimes spends so much time on the mundane that the meaning of the story never happens.

I could claim my kids are just not cut out to be writers. But there's no way I'd say something so inane. This is not a fault of the young. We ALL do this. We tell a joke, but take so long with the detail that the punchline falls flat. We talk about our day, whining about all the little things people said or did, or the flat tire, so that by the time we're done our significant other is either asleep from boredom or his/her eyes are bleeding (sleep is preferable).

We don't want the story to lag, so just as we fill our speech with "uhs" and "ums" to fill in the pauses, we fill our writing with details that mean nothing, that add nothing, and that do nothing but distract us (as writers) from what is important.

I'm revising a novel now, and my number one job right now is to pare. If it doesn't add something to the characters, the drama, the point, the situation, it's going to get cut. I don't want the reader wondering when I'm really going to get to my point. I want it infiltrating the very first sentence of the novel, permeating every scene, every shred of dialogue, everything.

Be mean to your words. If they don't fit, they're out.


  1. This is about my last post on Unlikely Otaku, isn't it?

    (Just kidding. I know everything isn't about me. Maybe. :))

  2. Yes great advice… easier said than done of course.

  3. I would have nothing left. :(

    Yes, this is inspired by Stephanie. I am certain of this.

  4. So you carry a sharp knife when you write then eh? And you're not afraid to use it either.

  5. Is there any way to edit those jokes, though, when they're halfway told? Sigh...

  6. Hi Shakespeare,

    You were a winner in Seekerville.

  7. Stephanie, I find ongoing hilarity in your tendency to take any advice as direct criticism. How very charming/silly of you! Even more intriguing that Relax Max believes it is also a direct statement about you... wonder what that means...

    Jeff, it IS easier said than done. That's why I carry a sharp knife, as Walking Man says. If you find it difficult, take it out and put it in another document. Chances are, though, if you think it might not go, it probably doesn't, and you'll never miss it. Slicing out whole parts of the novel--even the later 2/3 of the whole thing--has gotten easier for me. I've never been that possessive of my writing, and even if it doesn't make it to the final draft, it wasn't wasted effort. It helped to BUILD what eventually survives.

    Relax Max, you have SOMETHING, and it may be the something that most needs to be said (and which is otherwise lost in all the drivel).

    Though a non-violent vegetarian pacifist, Walking Man, I enjoy the slicing of a story to make it better. It's the final product that matters, and the process of getting it there is sometimes vicious.

    CKHB, so sorry, but I don't think there is. I just keep the voice inside my head screaming, "Faster! Be brief! Get to it!" Comics do it well because they PRACTICE. Only a few are brilliant off the cuff. Most practice and hone their material so that it's said with the best words and timing possible.

    Thanks, Tina! I've sent the mail out for it, I think.

  8. Yeah, the "hus" along the prose just kills it. I used to skim through those parts, now I just put the book down. I wish to write a book good enough so people don't feel the need to put it aside. Or toss it to the fireplace.