Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Don't Overwrite

I try to leave out the parts that people skip. ~Elmore Leonard

The quote above made me laugh. If only we could do that, I thought. Then I spent a little time reflecting on the kinds of things I skip when reading a book. Oh yes, I do skip parts of some books, and so do most of us. But as writers, it would not be to our liking to know our readers skip those words we worked so hard to offer them.

What kind of things do readers pass over?

Long descriptions for one. Writers sometimes get carried away. They have to 'see' a place in their own mind and so they want the reader to visulize it exactly as they have. They write paragraph after paragraph describing the inside of a log cabin where a romantic tryst is taking place. The reader could care less. They want to get to the good part--where the red-hot romance sends sparks and flames through the roof. The writer needs to keep in mind what is the more important part. Is it the way the inside of the cabin looks, or is it the relationship of the two characters? Setting is important, but it can be woven into the dialogue and/or action of the characters. You don't need six paragraphs to tell the reader where she is.

History is another part of a story that can become overdone. Writers often do a good deal of research when writing a novel. They become immersed into the historical events that have bearing on the story, and sometimes they think that the reader needs to know every little detail. They don't. A little goes a long way. Once again, keep the main story in mind, not the background. History, too, can be woven into the story.

Academic facts sometimes take up pages of a novel. Unless you're a particular scholar of the subject, you probably don't care. You want to know what happened to the professor when the lab caught fire or how the star reporter escapes from a bombed building. Once again, a little goes a long way.

Too much backstory can lose a reader. Yes, backstory can be important to the present action but once again, less can sometimes be more. A reader can get so involved in backstory that she loses track of the present.

These are only a few of the parts of books people skip over. I call it overwriting. Make your story and the characters primary throughout. Put these other things in, by all means, but don't get carried away and let them overpower the story. You don't want readers skipping parts of your book, do you?

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