I took a trip to help a dear friend move recently and rediscovered a simple, fundamental truth that transcends all of life: camouflage hides stuff, whether you want it to or not. This holds true with your kitchen counter top, and your story.
“Where’s the packing tape,” I mumbled to myself as I looked over the cluttered counter tops. There were half filled boxes, contents of drawers, an open bag of Veggie Straws, a half filled coffee cup, my cell phone, and lots of other clutter caused when one is moving out of a house. I eventually located the tape when I flipped a box lid closed.
When there are too many things competing for your attention it is all too easy to miss the intended target, in this case the packaging tape.
I used every packing box I brought! I either lucked out or I’m just that good.
“Uh…. Shai, what does you ability to properly estimate the number of packing boxes have to do with my story?”
Precisely nothing. And therein rests my point. My main purpose for putting this information into print is to help you avoid unnecessary clutter in your story. Brevity keeps a reader’s attention. Anything not directly related to your plot, character or scene development should litter the cutting room floor.
If it doesn’t drive the plot forward in some manner, it needs to be cut.
If Steve’s gift of making the perfect cup of coffee doesn’t develop him as a character or drive the plot forward, skip it. But if it serves a specific purpose, keep it. If the mailbox having an orange stripe comes up strategically later in your story, include it. If it has nothing to do with anything, ditch it. It’s that simple.
“But, Shai, I really like this scene. I don’t want to ditch it.”
Unless your reader is your teacher, your best friend, or your Great Aunt Nettie May, you’ll lose them at the first weak point. Readers are fickle (and we’re all readers). We’ll read until the writer gives us an opportunity to bail. I’ve made some pretty hard cuts before and I have never regretted it.
That being said, don’t feel like you need to delete it altogether; turn it into a Flash piece, or keep it in your own private stash of inspirational material. If you accumulate enough Flash pieces you will have an anthology, and there’s a nice group of us out there who love anthologies.
“I can’t write Flash! My grandmother reads my stuff!”
No, no, no. Flash doesn’t speak of the content as much as how the content is put together. You could write a flash piece about lizards and snow machines, or maybe dung beetles. I would love to explain further but it doesn’t fit the topic at hand. Ha! Wanna know more? Click here…. FLASH
Now, shouldn’t you be writing something?