Cut the Clutter

Part of being a writer is knowing what to dramatize and what to leave out. Wait. Did I say to leave something out? Why, yes I did. I’ve touched on it before, but I see it time and again in the pages I edit. You don’t need to mention every detail, only the important ones. Do you consciously remember every detail of everything you do every day? Of course not! Not everything is memorable, nor should it be. In fact, even some things that are memorable can be glossed over in a story for the sake of brevity if it’s all pretty much the same. Perhaps one of your characters has started a new relationship and a week later, they’re still spending every moment together staring into each other’s eyes. Instead of spending pages detailing all that, it can all be summed up in a nice little sentence or two.

For the next week, Joey and I were inseparable. We ate, slept, and breathed as one, separated only by the necessities of work.

The story can then pick up where it left off with something important happening. This not only helps by condensing all those similar details, but it condenses time. Now we know time has passed. They’ve spent this amount of time together and know each other to this extent.

You can also condense information this way. While you may need to add technical information on a profession or other task in your story, if you provide too much, it could sound like a manual. First, you want to understand it well, then you want to present it through the character’s point of view. This will offer a taste of your character’s insight, which will make it infinitely more interesting to your reader.

For example, if your character is a draftsman, perhaps you could portray what he feels like as he first puts pencil to paper, how it feels to draw those strong lines upon the virgin paper rather than technically explaining how it is done. Likewise, it would be much different if he is more tentative, and he’s afraid to lay down those first few lines because he might make a mistake. How might he feel about his work then? It gives a completely different feel to a scene in which the character draws a few lines. Use these details to build your character, to build the tension of the scene. They all work together. Condensing the information like this can heighten this quality, it cuts out the excess that fills pages, but clutters the story. So learn to cut the clutter. Condense when you need to so you can focus on what’s important.