Ray Rhamey at Flogging the Quill recently demonstrated how an overplump piece of prose should be trimmed of its fat, leaving a clean-and-lean scene in its place. There’s little doubt after reading the original that Ray’s editing worked wonders, but can a writer learn to write tight in the first place?
Here’s my analysis of Ray’s great approach:
* Nix the backstory. Introduce history as it’s needed and not a moment before. Backstory is not only a spacehog, it can also be boring. Besides, a LACK of information can often provide a HOOK. Readers want to know why people are acting as they are, why things are unfolding as they are, and they’ll keep reading to get to that info. Don’t hand readers the key to your story too soon.
* Commit to conflict. Conflict is to your story as gasoline is to your automobile’s engine; if there’s not enough of it, you will be left stranded somewhere unpleasant. Create tension and get the readers asking questions or they may never commit to the journey you want to take them on.
* And focus on action. Even with gasoline (conflict), you’ll get nowhere without wheels (action). Be sure your story is evolving with every scene, propelling you ever closer to your story’s denouement.
* Don’t overwrite. No one wants to drive around in circles, so don’t let characters spin endlessly around plot points. Granted, it won’t be the nature of every character to quickly go where you need them to, but don’t let things get ridiculously out of hand. A related point involves characters and dialogue. As Ray said,
…dialogue in fiction should not be real. It needs to move the story forward. Having characters saying the same thing over and over has the opposite effect.
* Make dialogue matter. Adding to the above point, we also don’t want to hear characters going on about the minucea of their daily lives. A character’s words should propel the story forward, period. (An example: you’ll want to leave out the conversation between the protagonist and the auto mechanic fixing her brakes…unless the mechanic is also a psycho murderer who is trying to kill the character’s husband.)
* Axe weak words. Focus on adverbs especially, and chop ’em out. Keep your eye out for was + ing words as well. Can you make them active?
* Minimize writing tags. He said/she said tags are necessary, but many writers overuse them. Analyze your own to see if readers might intuit who’s speaking using other cues, like the rhythm of the conversation or a character’s unique speech patterns. Your writing will not only be tighter, you will probably improve the overall flow and voice of your wip as well.
* Don’t tell. Take your telling out and see if you have enough left in the scene to show what’s going on. If not, add some well-chosen showing – you’ll probably still be writing more tightly.
Thanks, as always, Ray, for some great lessons!