Monday, July 8, 2013

Clean Up Your Act: Trash Those Useless Details

This post originally appeared on May 24, 2010.  I thought it would be useful information to share again today!

"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? Thanks for visiting and have a great week!


Old Kitty said...

One thing I found is I do a lot of "he said," "she said" LOL!! How embarrassing! And adjectives - like 20 in three sentences! Ok, off I go to hide my head in shame! LOL! Have a lovely week too! Take care

Jennette Marie Powell said...

I've been guilty of describing every movement! That's something I especially try to look for when revising.

Shelly said...

I only write for my blog, but when I'm writing stories I've learned to leave parts of conversations out, for example, leaving my exact words out to leave room for the other person's words. Since the blog is limiting space wise, that has helped.

Great post!

Romance Book Haven said...

Great post Maria! Of course, we need to be entertained. We don't want boring details unless it really is important.


Norma said...

I think I'm guilty of the opposite: not enough details. At least that was my first editor's complaint....

shelly said...

I'm like Norma...I never seem to give enough. Especially in the first draft.

And for books with too much description, I find them on CD or Audio and listen to them.

Hugs and chocolate,

Maria McKenzie said...

@Kitty: I've done my fair share of he said, she saids!

@Jennette: I've cut lots of unnecessary movements while revising!

Shelly: Limited space always cuts the wordiness;).

@Nas: So true!

@Norma: I like writing dialogue most, so I have to go back and layer in everything else, including all those little details.

@Shelly: I think too little is better than too much:).

Intangible Hearts said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Intangible Hearts said...

I think the entire point of writing is description and pulling the reader into the story--but that's just me and I'm not selling millions like Stephen King.

Maria McKenzie said...

Description is great and does pull the reader in. But I know I can get a little heavy handed with it sometimes;).

Philip Verghese 'Ariel' said...

Hi, Maria,
Great tips!
Thanks a lot for the re,post.
it surely give a thoughts to the writers who leave unwanted stuff in their writings. Well presented.
Keep going.
Best. Regards

Maria McKenzie said...

Thank you, Phil, and thanks for visiting my blog:).

William Kendall said...

I find myself wondering if I'm putting in too many details...