Friday, October 4, 2013

Everything Needs A Purpose In Your Story

Some of you might receive a rejection letter or notes for revision that use the phrase "tighten up the story." I think out of a lot of the words we throw around in publishing, this one is really right on the money in terms of identifying what it is we are looking for. If we think about tightening something, we are often referring to getting rid of that extra space in whatever we are working with. In the case of stories, we are getting rid other non-essential items.

In many cases, writers will add material to their story that really does nothing to enhance the main story arc. This might be extra characters, but more often than not, we see scenes and dialogue that do nothing other than add word count to the story. At the time the writers add the material, it might seem like this is an essential scene. IN reality, it is probably a scene that is added just to get the writer to a point in the story they really need to be at.

For example, your hero and heroine are at work but somehow need to get across town where the big blow out fight is going to happen. The author doesn't necessarily want them to go from everything is great over the surf and turf and then suddenly they hate each other. So what do they do? They add a scene where the two of them rid in a car and bring up some pointless conversation just to "pick a fight." Now, while this might indeed create a moment of tension, the pages you just added to the story probably did nothing more than to slow down the storyline.

So how do we fix this? Surprisingly, the idea is really easy. By adding a bit to the dinner conversation, the tense moment can start with the end of the dinner. At this point, the author would simply have to start the next scene with something such as "The ride from the restaurant back to her car at the office was miserable. The more she thought about his final comment, the madder she got." In simple terms, we just got straight to the point.

As I also said, the problem can also occur with adding unnecessary characters. I really see this with those contemporary stories with the "wild and crazy best friend." This person is only around so that the main character can have someone to talk to. In reality, you could do the same thing with some simple introspection. Remember, when you add that character to the story, you have to also take the time to develop that person as a character. Even if the character is minor, we need to have that development.

There is also another positive side here. By taking out that scenes and characters that are doing nothing more than sucking the air out of your story, you can use those words to add the depth to the plot elements and character development that is necessary.

Homework this weekend? Go cut those scenes and characters that are not that crucial. You will be amazed at how your story has a new fresh feel to it.


  1. Thank you for some great and timely advice. I'm about to begin working on edits that an editor recommended for my novella. Tighter writing is the goal so I'll be sure to keep your words in mind as I work.

  2. I do wonder if specific required word counts are arbitrary and lead to this padding.