I have the line above (without the expletive deleted) taped to the wall by my computer. It serves as a reminder to me to aim for succinct sentences that move my story along. Please let me not be the only writer in the world with this problem.
I admire authors like Roald Dahl who are able to conjure up whole worlds using pithy, short sentences; who can create a well-wrought tale that is under 200 pages in length. I try to be more like him but I am a victim of a rambling mind which is somewhat corralled by the talents of my editor but still largely roams free. There are post it notes everywhere around my desk. Things I try to bear in mind while I write:
How much story? How much back story? (all that fun stuff about each and every character that no one needs to know except for me.)How much detail?How much tangential stuff?Stick to the plot.The simpler the better.Understand what I’m writing about before I write it.Try not to let the story run away with me.Clarity, Brevity, Continuity.
Boy, I should have the last three words tattooed somewhere where I can see them. Perhaps across my forehead but then they’d have to be backwards which would be distracting for anyone I was talking to. There is such an important balance to be struck between just enough extraneous information to make the book interesting, and so much that it bogs down the action. There was a fairy-tale I adored as a child (The Light Princess by George MacDonald Fraser- I think) where the prince, after placing his cursed, bewitched love on one scale and her masses of hair on another, had to cut them apart with his sword, aiming for the exact middle, where the weight was perfectly balanced. Sometimes writing is just like that, only I fear I usually have too much hair and not enough princess. Sometimes I get bogged down because I fall in love with my secondary characters and they start to run away with the story. But (I plead with myself and eventually with my editor) they’re so interesting!I know the excellent Alison Gaylin (Trashed) has this problem too and her fascinating characters are always fabulously eccentric and/or real.
Often it’s because I make things too complicated, needing to explain exactly how such and such happened, or how so and so got from here to there. And sometimes it’s because I get trapped in a vortex of description which is so much fun to write but doesn’t really move things forward a whole lot.
The secret is to figure out just how much is enough and to stick there.Until this is burned into my brain and becomes 2nd nature, I’ll just have to rely on the post-its next to my desk. One good thing- they make it look like a real writer works there.