Thursday, February 06, 2014

Getting Rid of the Parts Readers Skip


Dan Walsh is the award-winning and bestselling author of 9 novels, including The Unfinished Gift, The Discovery and The Dance. He has won 3 Carol Awards and 2 Selah Awards. Three of his books were finalists for Inspirational Book of the Year. Dan is a member of ACFW and Word Weavers. He lives with his wife, Cindi, in the Daytona Beach area where they love to take long walks. You can connect with Dan on Facebook, Twitter or Pinterest, or check out his books through his website at www.danwalshbooks.com.
*     *     *
We’ve all done it. You’re reading a novel that’s captured your interest and, before long, you find yourself skipping several paragraphs to find “where the story picks up again.” The writer writes well. That’s not the problem. The problem is they write too much. Sprinkled throughout the interesting, exciting parts you find a lot of blah-blah-blah.

Like you, my life is pretty busy. When I get to read fiction, I do it to be refreshed and entertained. If a book has too much blah-blah-blah, I put it down for good. Guess what I don’t do after that? I don’t recommend it to others and, likely, won’t buy another book from this author. Neither of these are good things.
I’ve published 9 novels in the last 5 years, most with Revell. My novels have received hundreds of customer reviews on Amazon. One of the most consistent comments I get (and one of my favorites) is: “Once I started, I couldn’t put the book down.” That’s the reaction an author wants from readers, no matter what genre you write in.
Readers who feel this way about your book, will tell others about it and buy your other books. If you’re not published yet, agents and editors will offer you contracts.
As I look back I believe I owe a good deal of my small measure of success to my favorite writing quote by the late NY Times bestselling author, Elmore Leonard:
In your writing, try to leave out the parts readers skip.”
I latched onto his advice when I first started writing and have followed it ever since, not just when I write but especially when I edit my work. Here are 3 practical tips I’ve learned about getting rid of the parts readers skip before sending in your manuscript.

1. See Research as a Spice, not a Main Ingredient

Whether we write historical fiction or contemporary, research is a part of our writing life. We should be devoted to it if our stories are going to come across with relevance and credibility. But our tendency is to imagine that all these fascinating details will be as interesting to our readers as they are for us. It’s not true. Really, it’s not. Figure that 90% of your research will be blah-blah-blah to your readers. You spent all that time to find the 10% you put into your book.

2. Descriptions? We Don’t Need No Steenking Descriptions

We are writing books for people who live today, not fifty years ago. We live in a video/visual generation. Most of our readers have watched hundreds if not thousands of movies and TV shows. Most of the words we write describing locations or what our characters look like are wasted. After a few lines our readers have already formed pictures in their heads and skip past everything else we say.

3. Resist Over-Explaining

At a social gathering, have you ever found yourself stuck in the gravitational pull of someone who talks too much? Don’t you hate that? Sadly, many writers suffer from the same malady. Not with our speech but our pen.
Say what needs to be said well, but only once. Resist the urge to explain the same thing over and over again to your readers in different ways. It’s all just blah-blah-blah. As writers, we need to see the cutting room floor as our good friend.
Think of it this way: the words lying there on the floor after you edit needed to be written so the better words could find their way. That’s the only thing that should wind up in our manuscript, the better words.
*  *  *
OK…I started the discussion with 3 Slicing/Dicing Tips. Share with us some others you’ve discovered. And for extra points, here’s a Quiz Question…who knows what movie I’m quoting (paraphrasing) in Tip #2 about the “steenking descriptions” and what’s the actual movie quote say?


13 comments:

Ron Estrada said...

"Batches...we don't need no batches...we ain't gotta show you any stinking batches." From the Three Amigos I believe. I won't cheat and Google it. I love the quote from Elmore Leonard as well. I've noticed that I create my own image of a character, no matter what the author tries to tell me. And I see more authors leaving out descriptons altogether. This is great news for men who only know three colors: blonde, brunette, and readhead. Thanks for the post.

Henry McLaughlin said...

Dan,
Thanks for the great suggestions to cut out the parts people skip. The skill is weaving in just enough to give the story flavor without overwhelming it and bogging it down.
FYI: The badges quote comes from a 1927 novel and 1948 movie called The Treasure of Sierra Madre. Didn't the read the book but the movie is awesome, one of Bogart's best.

Dan Walsh said...

Ron,

Close on the quote, but no cigar. The Three Amigos actually paraphrased the original movie quote. Henry (just below you) got it right.

Less is more, when it comes to providing author-created descriptions. I'm not a big fan of using real people on the covers, either. My current novel series with Gary Smalley (Restoration series) is using female models for the covers. This is something the marketing department insisted on, not our preference.

I'm like you. I create an image of the character and see that image every time they appear in the scene.

Dan Walsh said...

You are correct, sir! A little-known piece of movie trivia...that quote was voted #36 by the AFI as one of the top movie quotes of all time.

Ane Mulligan said...

I rarely watch movies so I have no idea. However, I really like what you say on this subject. I read a manuscript recently and put it down because the author went too deeply into the technical part of the hero's occupation. It overrode the story and I put it down. It read like a non-ficiton book about the occupation.

Descriptions can be tricky. If you're building a fictional town, you need to bring just enough of the ambiance for the reader to "feel and see" it without overload.

It's a fine line on which we have to balance.

Sally Bradley said...

Dan, isn't the movie quote also in UHF? :) Badgers? Badgers? We don't need no stinkin' badgers. Of course everything in that movie is a spoof off something else.

Dan Walsh said...

Agree, Ane. One way to bring things like that in when necessary is to introduce it in bits spread throughout a chapter vs dumping it all in narrative paragraphs. I try to think of ways to bring it in through dialog or characters reacting to something visual.

Dan Walsh said...

Sally, sounds right. But I think it was spoofing off the original, which came out in a book in 1927 then a Humphrey Bogart movie in '48.

Phyllis Wheeler said...

I generally skip description when I read. Now I know why: I've got a picture in my head already. Thanks for the enlightenment!

Karla Akins said...

I agree 100% and have no idea where the quote came from. (Until I read your comments.) I, too, skip to the good stuff because my time is limited. I like a story that moves along succinctly.

Dan Walsh said...

You are not alone, Phyllis. That's what most readers do. The sad thing is, many writers spend hours crafting these sections of their books unaware they are being skipped and, in some cases, causing readers to be less interested in their story.

Dan Walsh said...

You and me both :)

Delia Latham said...

I so enjoyed this post, Dan. Very informative...and so true. I really detest overuse of description. And I love the Elmore Leonard quote. :)