Nov 13 2009

A suitably brief guide to conciseness

Published by at 10:01 pm under Plotting,Writing Articles

  • “Does this develop an important character or advance the plot in a meaningful way?”  If not, it’s a strong candidate for deletion.  (To make scenery meaningful, draw it into the story– let characters interact with it or use atmospherics to develop the mood, etc). 
  • “Is there a better, faster way to show this?”  For example, rather than go through a scene establishing a minor character’s incompetence, perhaps you can just mention some of his spectacular failings in passing. 
  • “Is this redundant?”  I’d only recommend hammering the same point repeatedly if it’s really important. 
  • “Am I focusing on what is most important?”  Don’t waste our time on the small stuff.  Spending 25 pages searching for a minor artifact is probably unacceptable but spending hundreds of pages getting Ulysses from Troy to Ithaca obviously works. 
  • “Is this coherent?”  If it’s just a minor tangent that goes nowhere, get rid of it.  Additionally, try to tie together plot points as much as possible.   For example, if the superhero has a day job, ideally his work contributes to the plot in some way.  Maybe he uses his skills as a journalist to investigate Lex Luthor.  Maybe his struggles to hold down a pizza-delivery job show how much he’s sacrificing to be a superhero.   

4 responses so far

4 Responses to “A suitably brief guide to conciseness”

  1. Jonnyon 14 Nov 2009 at 11:50 am

    What about those little conversations between characters that don’t do anything to advance the story, but give the characters a life outside the plot? Like, a couple lines of shop talk before they segue into plot talk. Or a scuffle over their favorite Star Trek captains before they get down to business, whatever.

    Added realism or stuff no one cares about?

  2. B. Macon 14 Nov 2009 at 1:04 pm

    If any of the following conditions apply, I’d recommend considering shortening or removing the side-conversations.

    –You are over on length. (It’s easier to cut filler than details you are strongly attached to).

    –The conversations don’t help develop the character in an important way. Showing that he’s just a real person is probably not sufficient. For example, it probably doesn’t matter that a character enjoys fantasy football, but it would matter if he’s so freakishly competitive that he cheats at FF. That shows us something useful about him and foreshadows how he will act when the stakes are high.

    –The side-conversations distract from the main thrust of the conversation. Is the banter just idle chatting or does it somehow contribute to what the characters are trying to accomplish? For example, an interrogating cop might talk about his family or religion to get a suspect to open up.

    –The side-conversations do not introduce something that’s important later. (For example, if it’s really important that the mystery’s murderer is an expert chef, establishing that a character loves talking about cuisine should send red flags to readers and eventually to the detective).

    –The side-conversations make the conversation drag. Do you spend too much time on something that doesn’t matter?

  3. Jonnyon 14 Nov 2009 at 2:54 pm

    Hmm. All good points. I guess I’ll just have to see how the side conversations factor into foreshadowing/character development. They’re only ever a couple lines of dialogue so length isn’t an issue. And I can always edit them out later. Thanks!

  4. Ragged Boyon 15 Nov 2009 at 8:08 am

    I’m back! I’ve been missing all you SN people. Time to get back to work.

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