Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Include What Is Significant

What really separates the great writers from those who, well, really don't have it, is the knack of identifying and including only the significant material. These writers understand that everything doesn't have to go into a story, and some things, are just not necessary.

When I take a look at a submission, it becomes very clear in the early pages whether or not the author has this talent. It will be small things that we spot. For example:

  • Does the author really start the story in the right place? Too often, writers simply start too far out from the real story. It is clear why they are doing this? They have all of this back story they feel necessary to include so the reader knows what is going on. The problem, however, is that the only person who needed it was the author. For the readers, this information simply slows things down. In fact, much of that information might be material that would work better dropped in throughout the story on a "Need To Know Basis".
  • How is the author focusing in on details? Here is the big one I see all of the time. I don't know what it is, but romance authors love Italian food and if I see another description of the "aroma of basil and tomato sauce assaulting her as they walk into the restaurant" I am going to scream. Look, unless we're Anthony Bourdain, we are not likely that focused on thinking about food, let alone if we are on a date thinking about the activities going to happen after (or part of) dessert. In simple terms, if the author is obsessing, in an effort to include all of the senses, on small things, then the story is in over-kill mode.
  • Do we suffer from a "TMI - Syndrome"? This links into the focus on the details but really deals more with the plot and the characters. We get that authors need to provide the GMC (Goals, Motivations and Conflict) for the readers, but we don't need all of the nit-picky details. If the heroine had a tough time growing up in a family of all guys with excessive Testosterone, that's fine. But we don't need to have all of the play-by-play coverage of all the flag football games and so forth. Simply saying it was tough living in a house full of guys might be enough. 
There are times when you have probably heard of "tightening up your story." This is what we are talking about. Get rid of the excess and really focus in on what is essential. This is not so much work on a sentence level, but work at the larger level. As you go through your edits, always ask yourself if this is really necessary, or if it is necessary at this particular moment. If you can pull that detail out, and the readers are still with you, then cut it.

The benefit of doing this is that it gives you the chance to add that word count to developing a depth of character and plot development in the other places.

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