Eighth element in this series: Kill Your Darlings: The Art of Revision
(Please read the Introduction, if you haven’t already.)
This typically occurs in dialogue when one character tells another character things that other character already knows, or should know. The author inserts these details to “feed” information (exposition) to the reader. But it makes for unnatural, even unbelievable, dialogue between characters.
For example, Jill says:
“One set of prints here. Male as well. The lady who hired us described her friend, John Dodd, as five foot-ten and around a hundred eighty pounds. The depth of the print and length of the stride matches her description.” (40 words)
This is not how Jill would speak to her partner, Jack, especially since the lady has already been introduced. I changed it to:
“One set of prints. Male. Carol described her friend as five-foot-ten and around a hundred eighty pounds. The depth of the print and length of stride matches that.” (28 words = 30 percent fewer words)
The phrase the lady who hired us is reader feeder because Jack already knows this. Find another way to convey that information to the reader.
Fifteen pages later, Jill says:
“It’s time to go see the woman who hired us to look for Dodd and give her the bad news.” (20 words)
The phrase the woman who hired us to look for Dodd is reader feeder and repetitive. I changed it to:
“Time to go see Carol and give her the bad news.” (11 words = 45 percent reduction)
This is not only more realistic, it tightens it up and improves the pace.
Too much BS (back story)
Back story and character bios in inappropriate places (bringing the story to a halt), or without context for the reader, so it ends up having no meaning to the reader—e.g., someone asks for the time of day, and you tell her how a watch is made—and the reader skips it.
Back story and character bios that have little or no relevance to the story. I see a lot of manuscripts that go into great detail about a place or person that play minor roles in the story. Save it for the characters that matter.
Again, ask yourself, what’s the story reason? Is this the appropriate place in the story to put it? Does this information have to be introduced all at once or can it be dribbled in over a number of scenes or chapters, within a relevant context? I recommend the latter.
Author intrusion is my label for unnecessary or repetitious narrative that describes the action that follows, or explains a character’s motivation when the character’s action or words makes this clear to the reader. These are intrusive and slow the pace of the story.
Example: A character makes a sarcastic comment to another character, and the author writes: The day’s ball busting had begun. My comment to the author: Self-evident; delete. Or, put those words into a character’s mouth, not your narrative.
If you show, you don’t need to tell. If you reveal, you don’t need to tell. You can tighten up your narrative and improve the pace of the story by killing these darlings.
If you, as the author, writing in third person, want to be part of the story, then you need to make that clear from the outset. Otherwise, write it in first person.
The same applies to adverbs, those “-ly” words. Dump them, especially in dialogue attribution. E.g., “Be careful,” she said warningly. Or “I hate you,” she shouted angrily.
Adverbs are a lazy way out. . . . Metaphors are more fun.
Using adverbs is a mortal sin.
An exception would be if you are writing tongue in cheek and intentionally using “Tom Swifties,” which are a special type of pun.
Ninth in the series: Kill Your Darlings