Tuesday, June 28, 2011

How Much Is Too Much?

Writers love words, that is why we write.  So, it follows that one of the writer's most difficult tasks is to learn how to apply the "less is more" theory.  It is so easy to get caught up in language. I create what I consider a clever phrase and fall madly in love with it.  It is difficult to cut it, even when it becomes painfully obvious the phrase does not match the story's tone, voice, or it simply isn't necessary.

I heard author Clint Johnson at LTUE talk about streamlining fiction. He said,
"Authors tend to be self-indulgent; we get wrapped up in our own supposed brilliance. If you want to be paid for being read, you must not make people wade through your own showing off to get to the story."

Kathleen Duey at WIFYR 2011 called it "every little blade of grass". Inexperienced writers will describe every detail until their readers are so encumbered with unimportant business that the story drags.  Editors do not have time to wade through such writing indulgence, and they won't.

This is good advice but difficult to apply when those precious words are your own.  I can easily spot such word indulgence--using two words to say sort of what I want instead of using one word to say exactly what I mean or the use of modifiers because I didn't use the right verb or noun to begin with.  This is micro-streamlining.  But macro-streamlining, the plot-related kind in which entire scenes need to be re-evaluated for their necessity, is more painful.  Does every scene move the story forward?  Can two scenes that serve the same purpose be combined?  Is this scene self-indulgent or is it crucial to move me inexorably toward my climax?

My secret to macro-streamlining is in the re-write.  I have revised many times and I have found it difficult to identify with total honesty those unnecessary sub-plots and indulgent scenes.  Since I have decided to re-write my fantasy novel in the first person, the necessary scenes have come into sharp focus and the unnecessary ones have fallen to the background. Trimming the excess has only made it stronger. 

I am off to re-write another chapter.    

15 comments:

  1. Wow- rewrite in the first person that's awesome! I am actually rewriting mine in present tense. Such a paint but it helps with those nit-picky line edits as you go through word for word.

    And I have to say your edits on my MS were awesome- I didn't realize how many modifiers I used & it was so helpful to see them!

    Basically, you rock!

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  2. Present tense will work so well with your story! And I'm glad I was helpful in my editing.

    I was also surprised about some of the things I had missed on my own manuscript. It is so helpful to have other writers read it!

    Good luck with your rewrite.

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  3. Love this post! Writing a brief synopsis of each scene is helping me to macro-streamline. I've noticed a few times, that two very different scenes have the exact same synopsis, the same purpose in the book. Taking out the redundancies is making my story move faster.

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  4. We have supposed brilliance? Cool!
    First person does force you to write tight - good luck getting it polished!
    Wagging Tales

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  5. Hi, cruised in her from the campaigner site.

    I'm one of the few who have the opposite problem. I tend to streamline too much and have to bulk my fiction out. This comes from my previous incarnations as a poet and screenwriter. I'm still getting used to having the luxury of so many words.

    Yes, word-indulgance is definitely easier to spot.

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  6. Fellow campaigner here. I'm a bit on the opposite end. i often find myself to write too lean. I need to remind myself of describing things properly or my characters will walk though a nonexistent world.

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    1. It sure would be nice if I could impart to you my overabundance of words and you could give me a bit of your tight writing!

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  7. I was at LTUE, too! I wish I had stopped by here FIRST so I could have looked for you!
    What was your favorite class/lecture/panel?

    We are also fellow campaigners. Love me some MG/YA!

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    1. Wow, the writing world gets even smaller when you start to find people who go to the same conferences! I loved Stacy Whitman's presentation about writing cross-culturally and avoiding cultural misappropriation. Do you attend WIFYR in Sandy, Utah in June?

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  8. I recently rewrote my project I have out for submission now from 3rd person to 1st. You're right it did make it pop!!

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  9. Oh, wow, I'm here from the campaign and going through the same re-writing pain. First person is awesome for my purposes where two MC's emerge from one. In third, it was much more difficult to tell who was talking. I'm still wrestling with which scenes are crucial, but even more, how to reconcile the ability of teens to accept what adults can't without a whole lot more preparation than I included in my previous version. If you visit my blog (http://sherahart.blogspot.com), check the new intro in my next to last post. Everything in it is a response to adult critiques complaining that too much crazy stuff happened to my MC and they didn't understand why. The same stuff didn't phase a class of 7th graders.

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    1. It can be an interesting process to discover which narrative form is the best for the story--and a test of persistence to make the decision to change it! I'm headed over to your blog to read your post.

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  10. I wish I had made it to LTUE, but I couldn't make it work this year. I came to check out your blog from the campaigning shindig. Great post...I'm revising a MG fantasy and....oy! It is definitely tough...especially when you decide to rewrite whole entire scenes (which seems to be the bulk of my revising!)

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  12. I'm revising, too, and finding it interesting to revisit scenes with unnecessary sentences (and sometimes whole paragraphs). Nothing like a little distance to give one a clear vision for what can be tossed!
    New follower from the Campaign!

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