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Thursday, April 06, 2017

Getting Rid of the Parts Readers Skip

by Dan Walsh

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 17 novels in the last 8 years; 13 with traditional publishers, the last 5 as an indie. My books have received over 6,000 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?

Dan Walsh is the bestselling author of 17 novels, including The Unfinished Gift, The Reunion and When Night Comes. He has won 3 Carol Awards (finalist 6 times) and 3 Selah Awards. Three of his books were finalists for Inspirational Book of the Year (RT Book Reviews). 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 walks and spend time with their grandkids. Click here to connect with Dan or check out his books.


  1. Thank you Dan for stating so well what I try to impart to writers all the time. :-) Bless you for helping to equip writers to pursue their dream with excellence.

  2. I remember the line as "Badges? We don't need no steenking badges," but I think that's because they said it on an episode of The Monkees.

    As far as I know, the original quote is from The Treasure of the Sierra Madre, but I've never seen it so that's just a guess.

    As for the article: good list! Personally, I'd like to see less backstory, especially for minor characters, & I really start skipping paragraphs or pages when I feel the author keeps repeating her key plot points. She's sad. He's angry. It can never work out between them. The bad guy is psychotic. I get it. Move on. :-)

    1. I'm not sure why this showed up as "unknown." Probably because I wrote it on my phone. . . .

  3. Thanks Diana!
    Sharyn, You got the quote quiz right. Besides the Monkees, it was also said on the movie Blazing Saddles (both paraphrasing the Humphrey Bogart movie).
    I agree with you about those also being "reasons to skip." I actually have way more than 3, but only so much space in a blog post. Thanks for stopping by.


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