I’m pleased to welcome Virginia King as she enters the final week of her Quirky Guest Post Blog Marathon. I’ve really enjoyed reading her posts as she’s toured around. Be sure to visit Anna Legat’s blog tomorrow to read ‘Clueless in Honolulu’. Anyway, on to today’s post, Losing the Boring Bits.
Losing the Boring Bits by Virginia King
In Elmore Leonard’s ten rules of writing he famously advises writers to: ‘try to leave out the part that readers tend to skip’. Readers know what he means by this, but do writers?
Writer: I don’t like where this is heading.
Passages of description can constitute ‘boring bits’.
Writer: Hang on a minute. Description creates a sense of place. It delves into the character’s thoughts and builds a mood for the action. With description I can also fall in love with my own words.
Reader: Exactly, but you’ve got to get the balance right. Make every word count like this:
The green carpet greeted me again on the third floor. It hid the gentle list of the hallway and gave the ancient woodwork a seasick glow. (Deadstick, Terrence Faherty)
Potted histories of the characters are a big yawn.
Writer: They give my characters credibility.
Reader: It’s a much more satisfying reading experience if you weave the consequences of the backstories (not the backstories themselves) into the evolving story.
Repetition can kill the pace and treat the reader like an idiot.
Writer: But my stories are complex. The reader will get lost unless I remind them of the themes and issues. Repetition also makes the story longer – readers like thick books.
Reader: Respect the reader’s intelligence. If the writer keeps restating the same information or the same thoughts of the protagonist, the reader will start skimming – or worse. Boring books make great wallpaper.
Research creates authentic detail but it needs to be distilled.
Writer: I love research. Like the fascinating stuff I found about the establishment of co-operative dairies in Ireland in the 1890s. Did you know that in Cork, there were –
Reader: Is this a work of history?
Writer: No. Mystery.
Reader: So was there a murder in one of these dairies?
Writer: Sigh. A minor character needed a career so I’ve made him the manager of a dairy co-op. But I spent days researching it and I want to share a few facts.
Reader: Sounds like an info dump – also known as ‘literary treacle’.
Unnecessary phrases kill the pace and make for a clumsy read.
Writer: Such as?
Reader: As they danced, I could even pick up a hint of the chemistry that must have existed between them some thirty years previously. The reader knows about the old relationship, so this version gives the reader nothing to stumble over: As they danced, I picked up a hint of their old chemistry.
Less is More
After the structural edit of my psychological mystery The First Lie, I had a painful lesson about the ‘boring bits’. In the margin of a passage that I regarded as interesting detail, my editor wrote one word: “Padding?” Ouch.
Here’s the final first paragraph of my ghost story, Laying Ghosts:
The text message arrives while I’m home alone, enjoying a glass of wine. Andrew’s at a conference – a resort in Vanuatu where the accountants get to swap their neckties for mai tais – so the next four days are mine. He’d booked me to go with him as an accompanying delegate, but I’ve feigned the flu all week to get out of it. I’ve got a phobia about beach resorts and he knows it. Which is why he insists. (78 words)
Here’s the first draft of the same paragraph, as I wrote my way into the story:
The message arrives out of the blue. I’m home alone inspecting the contents of the fridge while Andrew’s at a conference – a resort in Vanuatu where the accountants can exchange their neckties for mai tais – so the whole weekend is mine. He’d booked me to go with him as an accompanying delegate, but I’ve feigned a persistent flu for the last week to get out of it. I don’t do island resorts and he knows it. Which is why he insists. But this is my chance to be free of his scrutiny for a few days. It’s a measure of how exciting my life isn’t, that the most indulgent way I can treat myself on a Friday night is with mountains of comfort food. (124 words)
Later I found cleverer ways to reveal the themes and relationships – and lose the boring bits.
A Free Ghost Story
Laying Ghosts is a modern 24-page haunted house story inspired by a Russian folktale and tangled up in a murder ballad from the 1700s. Virginia has kindly offered readers the chance to download a free copy here: http://www.selkiemoon.com/#popup
Find out more about Virginia King and her writing by clicking any of the following links