Thursday, February 26, 2015

Be Careful Not To Overwrite

Have you ever read a story where every last detail about the actions the character takes are listed for you? Look at the picture above. The writer who 'overwrites' might say something like this:

Grace rose from the sofa and walked to the library table. She bent over and picked up the stack of       books. She placed her apple on the top and walked to her car.

Yes, the fact is that Grace got off the sofa, walked to the table and then bent over before picking up the stack of books, then placed her apple on top and walked to her car. If the author wrote the following:  Grace took the books home with her. we'd have the same information without the step by step process. Most likely, this is not a crucial part of the story itself. It's unnecessary description. If Grace had been sitting on the sofa earlier and then we're told she took the books home with her, we know that she stood up and walked to the table etc. Those actions are not needed to make the story move along. In fact, they soon become boring.

One of the best writing mentors I had contended that nothing should be in a story that is not important to the plot. Grace walking and carrying is superfluous. Maybe the important thing is that she took the books home with her--possibly they did not belong to her, or they were left there by a psychological killer. Whatever!

I recently critted a chapter of a novel for a friend. She described her character as getting out of bed, walking to window, closing the window. The only important part was that the woman closed the window to shut off noise from below. All that had to be said is something like "Belinda closed the window so the noise from the street was muted." I don't need to know that she a. got out of bed and b. walked to the window. As a reader, I will assume that she did those two things. 

Here's a passage that needs to be changed. 

   Mark stood up. He put the bookmark in his book. He placed the book on the end table. He         walked to the kitchen because he was hungry. A sandwich would taste good he thought. He walked to the cupboard and grabbed the loaf of rye bread. He placed it on the table, then walked to the fridge, opened the door and found some bologna, mustard and mayo. He closed the fridge door and went back tot he table to assemble the sandwich. 

As an exercise for today, rewrite the paragraph, eliminating all the unnecessary actions. Do we, as readers, really care what Mark did step by step to curb his hunger? Probably not--unless these actions are crucial to the storyline. 

One of the best parts of writing without unnecessary actions from characters is that you will be cutting words. You'll have more space to add important things. 

Here's a true story. I was at a Saturday morning get-together of a writing group I once belonged to. Members read a chapter of a work in progress. One young woman began to read. She described every tiny thing in detail. It wasn't long before she totally lost her audience. Some were writing in notebooks, a couple nodding off, one even tapping his pencil faster and faster on his book. No one cared about her story because there was no story. Or if there was, it became buried in all those descrptions of people doing what the reader would understand anyway. 

Give your reader some credit. They'll understand much of what you do not actually write. 

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