Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Narrative Discovery



New authors usually write like they talk and this results in overwritten passages. When editing your work, ask yourself this:  Does my reader need this information?  Am I telling instead of showing my story or ideas?  Here’s an example:

It is a family tradition to go to the fair in the summertime.  We always go by car and drive there. It is about five miles from our house in Farmville to the fairgrounds. When we arrive, I always hurry past the many venders who are all in vending trailers selling all sorts of goodies. My favorite is cotton candy. So when we go to the fair next Saturday, I am going to get lots of cotton candy.

Here’s a very short version that actually says the same thing:  Next Saturday, I’m going to the fair and eat lots of cotton candy.

I’ve cut everything except what’s necessary to paint a very minimal word picture and, in so doing, have replaced a whole paragraph with one short sentence. Possibly the only item that could have been added would be that it’s a family tradition—but is it necessary for your reader to know going to the fair is a family tradition?

Let’s now look at what’s left out and why. First, aren’t most fairs held in summer?  Is it necessary to know the distance was traveled by car? Isn’t it assumed, if one goes by car, that the car is driven?  Is this information necessary? Does your reader need to know the fairground area is five miles away?  Isn’t it assumed there are lots of venders at fairs and who cares if there’s only one that sells cotton candy, because, for the protagonist, doesn’t cotton candy seem to be his/her focus?

The worst thing about overwriting is readers sense the author thinks them to be not too bright.  If this isn’t the case, then why explain each and every detail? Isn’t it better to let your reader join you in narrative discovery?  After all, both you and your readers have very creative minds.  Please let them use theirs by not explaining every single detail.   

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