Don’t let words get in the way of a good story.
May 29, 2018
As writers, we often get so bogged down in words that we forget to tell the story.
I do not read a lot of Tom Clancy novels.
I probably should.
But I don’t.
However, I really like Tom Clancy’s approach to writing. Too many authors spend way too much time researching and dredging out piles of mundane, worthless information that they’ll never have room to use in their novels.
I sometimes get in the habit myself.
I often think that I keep researching because – hidden somewhere in the voluminous amount of data that’s still unread – I believe I’ll run across the missing link, the silver bullet, that wonderful little nugget that can form the entire backbone of a novel.
Mostly I’m wasting my time.
I should do as Tom Clancy says he does: I do not over-intellectualize the production process. I try to keep it simple. Tell the damn story.
That’s the problem with a lot of writing these days.
Too much fluff.
Too many details.
Too many sentences that the author loves but readers had just as soon not wade through them all.
We get so bogged down in words that we forget to tell the damn story.
As George Singleton wrote: You don’t have to explain every drop of water contained in a rain barrel. You have to explain one drop – H20. The reader will get it.
We don’t have to hammer a point home time and again.
We need to give our readers a little credit.
Most of them are way ahead of us anyway and hoping we’ll hurry up to catch up.
Begin a story and run straight and as hard as you can toward the finish line. Sure, you’ll take a few detours with some wonderful little plot twists from time to time. But as soon as you possibly can, always get back on course, aim straight, and keep running hard.
The key to good writing, I believe, is to follow the advice of Stephen King: When your story is ready for re-write, cut it to the bone. Get rid of every ounce of excess fat. This is going to hurt. Revising a story down to the bare essentials is always a little like murdering children, but it must be done.
You cut out the words.
But you don’t have to bury them.
Give yourself a little time, and you’ll probably use them all again.
In my Ambrose Lincoln thriller, Place of Skulls, I wrote:
THE ODDS OF Danny B. surviving the night were growing shorter with each passing breath. He sat amidst the scent of burnt candle wax and glanced at the crucifix hanging on the wall. Dust and mildew had caked like mud to the slender feet of Our Lord, as though He had been walking through an empty field in the midst of a late summer rainstorm. The agony etched on the face of the statue was awash with the pain of a man hanging crookedly on a cross. Or perhaps it merely reflected the torment of some unknown, unnamed artist who had carved the intricate portrait of a deity’s execution.
A ribbon of moonlight passed absent-mindedly across the bronzed face, and the wall became black and barren again as though the Son of Man had pulled the heavy nails from his hands and feet, then climbed down from the cross and left the church.
Danny B. closed his eyes. There was a distinct similarity between sleep and death, and no one ever knew which would come first and if either would wait until morning.
Did I use too many words to set the scene?
Should I shorten the scene?
But I couldn’t change a single word.