I’m not just focusing on my creative writing these days. As I’m beginning to do some editing and translation freelance work, I realize how much I love working with fiction, whether it’s mine or someone else’s. And I’m reminded of the mistakes I would make as a newbie writer–and still do from time to time, much more often than I’d like to admit, if I’m honest with myself. (That’s why editing is awesome.) Everyone knows that good editing involves a lot of moving things around and even more deletion. But why is that the case?
I can only speak for what I’ve learned from my own writing development and my own errors. And the things that I found myself deleting starting out were especially related to narrative segments. These sentences, and sometimes paragraphs, were: redundant/too detailed, or not interesting/not needed
REDUNDANCY/ TOO MUCH DETAIL
This is where adverbs are particularly large offenders. When I started writing, I was too preoccupied with making absolutely sure the point I was trying to make would come across to a reader. This led to lengthy, complex paragraphs describing emotional states of characters whose emotions should rather be made evident by their simple words and actions.
I would not only, for instance, have a character ask, “What the hell do you think you’re doing?” I would note he asked that angrily while storming into a room and feeling more livid than he could ever remember feeling in his life. All that’s needed there is the simple dialogue. It’s plain, it’s direct, and it most certainly clarifies that the person speaking is angry or at the least highly annoyed. There’s no need for more.
I had to learn as a writer to treat my readers with respect and to rely on their common sense to pick up on cues, to figure things out without directly stating everything…. Truly, it’s a respect thing, and my readers deserve that respect. The best writing is always subtle that way. It weaves a web to ensnare you, it doesn’t jump up out of nowhere with a baseball bat and club you over the head.
THINGS THAT AREN’T INTERESTING/AREN’T NEEDED
How many times have you ever read that a character, before going to bed, got undressed and put on her pajamas, brushed her teeth, flossed her teeth, cleaned her face, took out her contact lenses, filled a glass of water to put on the bedside table, used the toilet, washed her hands, and then turned out the lights before turning down the sheets? How often have you gotten a detailed step by step of someone’s morning routine, or two characters going through four different possible times to meet for dinner, none of which work, complete with excuses as to why, before they find a day that works?
It’s very tempting as a beginning writer to think that giving tons and tons of detail makes the story seem real, because a certain kind of detail is, indeed, critical to good fiction. I used to think I had to be much more specific in my descriptions and narration than I needed to for the story to make sense. I had to learn that good description involves knowing what to emphasize, not throwing everything but the kitchen sink (and sometimes that) at the reader. Too much nit-picky, uberprecise detail become an overload that is boring, frustrating, and completely unnecessary. Whether your narration is first or third person, there are some things no one needs or wants to know. They’re just omitted…. It’s standard in all literature. I know this kind of example is overused, but how many times does Harry Potter wake up in his dormitory at Hogwarts throughout his series? And how many times do we follow him to the bathroom before he goes down to the Great Hall to meet Ron and Hermione for breakfast, where something interesting does happen before their first class? If you think about, you know he stopped at the loo. We all do. Every morning. That doesn’t mean it’s something people need to read about.