Monday, May 24, 2010

Clean Up Your Act: Trash Those Useless Details

"In many cases when a reader puts a story aside because it 'got boring,' the boredom arose because the writer grew enchanted with his powers of description and lost sight of his priority, which is to keep the ball rolling." Stephen King

I'm certainly guilty of descriptive overflow, as well as providing too many historical facts, overusing adverbs, and writing too many details that the reader doesn't need to know.

As writers, we want to entertain, not bog down our audience with how much we know, how beautifully we can describe something or explain every move a character makes upon waking up, driving to work, arriving at the office and riding the elevator to the 9th floor.

All of the above add wordiness and slow the pace. This takes away from the storytelling--what people buy books for in the first place!

In researching historical fiction, I find several things fascinating. But it's important for me to realize, that people read for the story, not a history lesson. Characters in whatever time frame we're writing about should react to events around them as we do today. In other words, no character should start espousing a dissertation on an event which today is considered historical and significant.

Something else I've had to curtail is wanting to describe every movement. "She took a sip of water. Afterwards, she set the glass down." The reader can figure that out, unless something significant happens as she puts the glass down. "She took a sip of water. But after setting down the glass discovered blood stains on the table."

It's also easy to lay it on thick with those adverbs and adjectives. "The large, shiny glaring light nearly blinded him with its overwhelmingly white brightness." Hmm, that's an instant rejection. How about, "The large light shone brightly, nearly blinding him."

Lastly, we should never overindulge ourselves by writing too much description. "Aunt Margaret's study, decorated with water stained antiques and thick gray curtains, appeared gloomy to Elise. She sat down on a wingback chair, feeling the metal springs beneath its threadbare fabric." That's good enough. Don't do this: "The chair once belonged to a wealthy planter in Georgia who'd owned 1000 slaves. At least that's what Aunt Margaret was told when she'd purchased it three years ago in Macon." Who cares?! Unless the history of the chair pertains in some way to the story, all we need to know is that it's old and uncomfortable!

Enough description to set things like time, the place and its surroundings, and the mood of your character/characters should provide enough details for the reader to fill in the rest. That's what reading fiction is all about, using your imagination!

What are some useless details you've learned to cut from your writing?

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