Monday, November 18, 2013

Cut the Crap

            “What is drama, after all, but life with the dull bits cut out.” —Alfred Hitchcock.

Sometimes the best thing you can do for your writing is cut.  This isn't because less is more, though there is a lot to be said for concise writing, especially when you want a scene or a moment to have impact.  I often find myself muddling through mundane routines in my characters' lives.  I end up writing stage directions, which I doubt would be interesting to a reader, because they bore me.  There is nothing worse for a project than getting bored with your own writing.  I usually fall into this wandering because I'm trying to figure out what happens next, or, if I know that already, what happens in the meantime.  I end up following the characters around, hoping they’ll do something worthwhile.
Here's an example.  My protagonist runs into a woman he knows downtown.  She's attractive.  They duck into a diner, have a short conversation pertaining to the story.  From there, she gives him a lift back to his apartment.  They pull up in front of his building, she turns off the car, he says something maybe, she says something, someone says something about being hungry, I don't know, but they end up in his apartment.  Story continues.  The important and interesting sections of this narrative thread are the run in, the conversation, and the two of them in that apartment, because, remember, she is attractive.  Everything else is unnecessary.  Unless I can extend to those connective beats some kind of character insight or color, they just weigh the story down.
These moments can also be damn hard to write.  As you can probably tell from my little sketch, I never figured out what the hell the two of them were supposed to say to each other.  I didn't know how to get them upstairs without forcing dialog down their throats, so I cut it out.  From the diner, I spare a few words on the car and the music this woman listens to (a bit color), and then like that, they're in the apartment.  
This jump hopefully excites the reader, because the story is progressing (in this case towards a potentially heated situation).  Also, this gives them a chance to read into what's not on the page and prescribe that in-between content based on what they already know about the characters.  In a small way, they get to participate in the story, and that is gratifying.  We are all used to doing this, and a lot, because we all more or less grew up watching television and movies.  If you watched a movie that kept the camera glued to its characters as they maneuvered from point A to B down every hallway, pausing to close every door behind them, etc, you would be bored to tears.
It is critically important as a writer to constantly think about how much of the scene you are writing needs to be there.  Can you justify what is on the page?  What does it do for your story, and would anyone miss it if you took it out?  Asking yourself these questions forces you to recognize, and hopefully create, the pieces of your story that matter, and helps you limber up your writing by brushing aside all those fragments that do not.
image. from Pulp Fiction, Quentin Tarantino

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