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It’s all in the details, unless the details are boring

June 12, 2012

I’ve gone from being excited about a little story I’m writing to getting bogged down in a lengthy tale that’s heading in the direction of a much longer piece of work than I’d anticipated. So I’m taking a break from writing it for a few hours to think about what exactly I want the story to be and, more importantly, what I really need it to contain.

Part of the problem is that I have a tendency to over-describe character actions and extend mundane details. For example, when writing a first draft I might type something like:

Jed walked back to his car and opened the door. As he got in he noticed a man in a trench coat looking straight at him from across the road. It made him uncomfortable, but he tried his best not to show it. He had a sinking feeling that he’d been made.

There’s a lot of stuff in there that a reader just doesn’t need. Instead I should probably write something more like:

Jed pretended not to see the man across the street staring him down as he got back into his car, but it was no use. He’d been made.

The second passage is easier to read, but writing that way is a hard skill to master.

My inclination when I write is to describe the situation that I’m seeing in my mind’s eye exactly as I see it. I don’t want to miss anything important, so I throw it all in there. But having all that detail can turn out to be a super boring read, so I always have to go back and edit lots of stuff out. I guess the good news is that I’m getting to the point where I’m able to mostly distinguish what needs to go on my own these days, but it would certainly be better if I didn’t put it there in the first place.

In the end, I think that I might have to read through what I’ve written so far in my small (and growing) story and decide what can stay and what needs to go before I get farther into it and have more detail than I know what to do with. It’s not the most efficient way to write, but it’s what I have to do in order to ensure that I’m not going to bore Jed to death before he has a chance to see what that guy in the trench coat wants.

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