As an artist I often leave things out of a landscape painting to make a better picture. This is art. I want to give a certain impression and those high tension power lines marching across the background, or that batch of bushes right in front of the house, just don’t work for me. I put in what I want in and leave out what I don’t want to show.
As a writer I do the same thing. Sometimes what I leave out is as important as what I put in. I have started writing many scenes thinking, “This is so boring. I can’t wait to finish it.” Well, duh. Leave it out. If there’s any really important information in there, work it into the next scene somehow, hopefully in conversation. So what kinds of things do we normally leave out that real life doesn’t?
Small Talk: In real life there is a lot of small talk. “Hi. How are you?” “Fine. And you?” “Fine. What are you up to today?” Young people leave this stuff out of their real lives by texting. No small talk there. Just ask the question or make the comment you want to make and you’re done. You go on with what you’re doing until the phone beeps with your answer. I used to ask my kids why they text. Why don’t you just call the person? Now I understand. If you call, there’s a lot of small talk before you can ask the question you wanted to ask. They leave it out. I’m finding myself texting more these days, too. And in writing, it is absolutely necessary to “text” your dialog.
Long Descriptions: Unlike the section on small talk, here we want to go more with real life. When you walk into someone’s home for the first time, what do you do? Do you examine the room in critical detail before speaking a word to your host? No, you do a quick sweep of the room with your eyes, noting the general layout and perhaps a couple of interesting things you want to ask about–later. And those couple of things define you as well as the person who owns them.
For instance, when my one sister-in-law comes here, she looks around and immediately goes to my latest piece of art. Why? Because she loves art. Another friend comes in and immediately walks to the piano to see which piece I’m working on. Why? She loves music.
So when my hero walks into a room, I give a one or two sentence description and he notes something that helps define his character or will help move the story along. What did Belle notice when she walked into the Beast’s library? The books. Not the architecture or the vaulted ceiling. She loves to read. She’s not an architect. The fact that he has this fabulous library and offers it to her says a great deal about him, too.
Bridges: I’m talking about the kinds of bridges that get you from one great scene to another. You don’t show the detective driving along from the murder scene to the suspect’s house–unless it’s important. You don’t show your hero eating breakfast–unless it’s important, such as the Lucky Charms scene in Susan Elizabeth Phillips’s book, Nobody’s Baby But Mine. You don’t show your hero getting up and going into the bathroom in the morning–unless it’s important. Remember Oh, God with John Denver in the bathroom?
Unnecessary words: “That” is the one I go after in my own writing. I use it too much and it isn’t always necessary. So I look out for it and cut it when I can. It’s better to say, “the man she loves” rather than “the man that she loves.” You don’t need the “that” and it just makes it longer and more cumbersome. Another one that I don’t use, but see in some writing is that extra little preposition at the end of a sentence. Not all prepositions at the end sentences are bad. How else would you say, “Where are you from?” “From where are you?” I don’t think so. But to say, “Where is it at?” is wrong and unnecessary. “Where is it?” is all you need. Not “Where’s he going to?” But “Where’s he going?” The test is, if you leave it off and it still makes sense, you don’t need it.
Bottom line here, if it isn’t important, if it doesn’t show character or move the story along, if it’s boring, CUT.