Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Simplify, Simplify, Simplify!

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Long-time readers of this blog know that when I have absolutely no news to convey and yet feel obligated to post (I have been remiss in recent weeks, and am anxious to get back on schedule), I offer writing advice for new writers.

Today's advice: Simplify.

There is a story and it should be told in the absolute minimum number of words possible. Kurt Vonnegut once wrote that in fiction every sentence should reveal character or advance the action. Those are words to live by.

Unsuccessful stories are full of digressions. They begin by "setting the scene" -- rip all that out. The protagonist comments on things that have nothing to do with the story and do not clarify his or her character. That goes too.

Cut.

Cut.

Cut.

Cut.

Then take a sponge and mop up as much of the blood as you can.If you've done it right, what remains will be lean, lovely, and compelling.

You're probably wondering now how to tell when you've cut too much. Don't worry about it. In all my decades of reading, I only ever ran into one published story where the author had taken out more than he should have -- and he was a very skilled writer indeed, one of the best.

That's all for today. But it's enough to keep you occupied for a long, long time.


Above: Some pretty flowers. They don't advance the action. But they do reveal something about my character.

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1 comment:

Thomas Kleaton said...

Mr. Swanwick: I have a lot of trouble with this as I always want to set the scene of the story first. Can you recommend a book on writing that discusses simplifying and gives concrete examples?

Thank you!