I’m on a diet. I’ve simply gained too much weight for my legs, hips, and back to handle without complaining. Often, especially with a rough draft, the same could be said: “It’s carrying too much weight (“fat”).”
With both my writing and me the remedy is to trim the fat. For me it’s get rid of those extra calories; for my writing it’s get rid of those extra adverbs, adjectives, long descriptions, and any extraneous information.
Sure that key lime pie was delicious, and sure the research I did about explosives was fascinating, but do I really need either the pie on my hips or a long, detailed description about explosives in my book?
We all have to make decision. Some are about what we eat (put in our bodies), and some decisions (for writers) are about what to put in our stories. The more you learn about the craft, the more likely you’ll find stronger verbs to replace adverbs, different nouns to limit adjectives, and a keener eye regarding what’s needed for the story and what can be trimmed. But all of us have our weaknesses. That delicious banana split or that wonderful scene describing the sunset over Lake Michigan. And sometimes it’s all right to indulge, to enjoy the foods we love and include a scene that expresses the beautiful of the setting or everything you learned about boats and explosives. It’s when you over indulge—eat too many calorie laden foods or include too much extraneous information—that’s when the body and the ms get into trouble.
Most diet plans advocate choosing foods that lead to good health; we’re told that our diets should include lean protein, lots of fruits and vegetables, a modest amount of carbohydrates, and a small amount of good fats. The same should be true for our writing. Lean and clean should be the writers motto. A little bit of material that’s not directly related to the story might be all right, but not a lot. I know how easy it is to lose sight of the story when a secondary character grabs your heart, but just as I must be wary of that slice of chocolate cake trying to entice me, as a writer I must be wary of anything in the story that might take the reader in a direction I don’t really want her/him to go.
I do like to add a little of what I’d call the good fats. It will show up in a scene or in some information the reader might not realize is actually important to the story; that is, not until later. When that happens, I feel I’ve scored a win. Actually, I want my readers to trust that everything I’ve added, even if at the moment it doesn’t seem important, will play a part in the story, that I didn’t simply add it to pump up the word count.
I just need to remember to do that with my diet; i.e., make sure everything I add is important.
So far I’ve lost 4 1/2 pounds. I’ll let you know how I’m doing as the weeks go by.