Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Top 10 Things I Learned from Writing a Book: #9 Trim the fat & get to the good stuff

So I’ve finished my first novel, Desires of the Soul, and it’s caused me to reflect on the things I’ve learned. Naturally, I want to share them with all of you. Maybe you’ve learned the same things; maybe you were lucky enough to already possess this wisdom. Either way, for the next couple of months, I’ll be posting a new lesson-learned every week (or so). I hope you’ll check back and weigh in with thoughts or lessons of your own. So without further ado, here is...

#9. Trim the fat & get to the good stuff

This is something I still have a hard time with.  For those who have read my previous post I wish I was an under-achiever, you know that I’m not the writer who fleshes out the book and then fills it in with details later.  I’m also not the writer who can be described as “succinct” in her writing.

Nope, I’m long-winded, an embellisher, a detailed digresser.  The practice of “short and sweet”
completely escapes me.

But if we wax poetic about what our main character had for breakfast and how it was prepared, we’re slowing our pace down and getting away from what’s truly important in the scene.  So unless those pancakes trigger a vital memory or are the cause of his food poisoning, skip it.  Take it out.  You don’t need it.

I’ll give you an example from my first chapter of how I trimmed the fat and changed an entire paragraph into one simple sentence…

Original version:
A car pulled to a stop in the middle of the street and the girl behind the wheel called for Angelica’s attention. As she and the girl made plans for a get-together in the near future, he noticed two frat boys, clad only in their boxers, sprinting across the lawn in their direction. They each carried a bucket of water balloons and used their free hands to pelt each other with the colored grenades. Obviously not concerned with civilian casualties, one of them ducked behind Dom’s much larger frame to use him as a human shield. The coward’s opponent launched an attack. Before Dom could warn her...

Revised version:
One of the idiots currently involved in a water balloon fight rushed past them as his opponent launched an attack. Before Dom could warn her...

My original version wasn’t necessary.  The girl Angelica started talking to was only to get her distracted, she had no other purpose.  The frat boys have no significance other than to act as a catalyst for what follows the balloon’s explosion.  So why does the reader care what they’re wearing or how they’re toting the balloons?  They don’t.  All the reader needs to know is that there is a water balloon fight going on and one of the balloons explodes right behind her on the sidewalk.

So, if someone tells you to trim the fat or tighten a scene up, they’re probably suggesting you get rid of anything that’s not absolutely necessary for the reader to know.  So axe ‘em and leave only those things that drive the story forward and keep the pace.

Until next time, happy trimming!

Ciao <3

*Backlist for this Top 10 list:
#10. Fiction writing is a whole different animal


  1. Great post! The single sentence is much more interesting, anyway, because it lets the reader *imagine* where those water-balloon guys came from and create her own scene in her mind of the party debauchery going on around Dom and Angelica. I think that's important to remember -- that readers want some details to hang their fantasy worlds on, but not a fully-fleshed-out universe.

  2. Yeah, I have the opposite problem ... LOL. My CPs are always asking me, "Wait, what is going on here? You need more explanation." We all have our things ...

  3. I love this post! I'm in the same place. Fortunately finding Serenity has been a saving point for me. I did a bit of stalking myself lol. She doesn't seem to mind too much. Best of luck with your future works Gina.

    X Mel

  4. Another great post! I have the opposite problem, too. You've learned so much from this first novel. Thank you for sharing all your lessons with the rest of us!

    Enjoy the full moon, Gina! :)


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