It’s a fine line … How do you know when you write too much versus not enough?
Many authors feel the need or obligation to drone on about every detail, with characters that have very little to do with the story. We love when they help us to see, to hear and even to smell the main characters. However, if Mary’s mother’s aunt isn’t a main character, we don’t need to know that she had long twisted fingernails and was an avid reader of 14th century literature or that her manicurist only worked on Saturdays blah, blah, blah,” Others skim over an interesting or important topic much too fast. “She was pretty” or “My kids are my world.” Without additional elaboration, this was hardly worth stating. If this is relevant to the story, if it’s worth mentioning at all, we need more. Why are your kids so important to you? My suggestion is to first tell the story. Then, when you go back to read it, ask yourself if you brought your audience into the story. Did you help them visualize the character, the scene, the smells, the sounds? On the other hand, did you add so much detail that you are training your readers to skip to the next paragraph or worse . . . close the book?
I love when someone tells me that they felt like they were “watching a movie” and then they beautifully describe a scene from my book stating that “it was my favorite part.” If their description is the picture that I was trying to paint, then I got through.
On the other hand, I hate when I read a review that states that “The author went on and on in chapter two and I found myself skipping a few paragraphs.”
As you read or have others read, ask the question … Do I need to elaborate or did I go on too long anywhere? I often hear people say “I wanted to hear more about …” And I never want to hear “I skipped over that part, it was too long and lost me.” It’s not easy to get someone to read your book cover to cover. Their time is valuable, it is your job to entertain them, teach them or take them to another place and time.
I find that I skim past important details when I’m tired or just not in the mood to elaborate. That’s a sure sign that it’s time for break, a stretch or a cup of coffee. Maybe you underestimate the value of the character. In my latest book, The Traveler’s, I found that people wanted to know more about Ann Trans. When I went back to read the sections that she appeared, I saw opportunities to develop her into a more interesting character.
Encourage your editor(s) and most trusted “sneak peek” readers to share with you, exactly where “for them” you went on too long about a scene or a character. Ask them to point out sentences that they had to read 2 or 3 times to understand. Maybe you can reword it for a smoother read. Ask them to describe each character. If they aren’t describing the person you thought that you created, you may have more work to do.
Some tricks I use: When I reread something that I wrote and I notice that I jumped too quickly to the next sentence, or the next topic, I simply add (elaborate more) and move on until I’m “in the mood” or “feeling the magic.” Sometimes I feel like I did such good work until I put the story away for a while and then reread. If I struggle to read my own story, I can only imagine the difficulties others might have.
If I find a sentence or a paragraph that I struggle to compose, I will ask one of my “samplers” to read the paragraph out loud. If they struggle and have to start a sentence over, there is likely room for better sentence structure.
Your trusted pre-readers are your lifeline. You must give them the space to be honest, even bold critics. If their honesty or opinion is too hard to take, you best get out of the business. Ask them to find something that doesn’t feel right or was hard to understand. Let them know that you count on them to make your book better. Nothing … I repeat, nothing is worse than someone having a comment that would help your craft but repressing that comment in order to protect your precious little ego.
Brilliant writers have bold editors and trusted people that challenge them to better define a character. A good editor will not be easy to like. A good editor will ask you to delete a section of your book that you believe is wonderful and necessary to the story. A good editor will tell you to add another chapter between chapter 4 and chapter 5. A good editor will ask you questions like “I don’t think this paragraph makes sense to anyone other than you?” or “What on earth are you trying to say?” Comments from a good editor are likely the cause of many an unfinished potential masterpiece. You won’t keep your sanity in this business if criticism keeps you from finishing.
Trust me, your paying readers will be very bold and honest from behind their hidden keyboard. Once they read your book, they become instant critics and like it or not, everything they say is important to you. We need their reviews. If they loved your book, you hope they also know how to compose a review and elaborate about your wonderful book. If they didn’t like it, their words will bite you like a dog. But, best bite your own tongue, listen to the critique and either brush it off or take it to heart.
I can find areas in all five of my books that I wish I did differently, better, longer and with more finesse. I see characters that I could have or should have developed better. I see sentences that I wish I’d left out or taken the time to rewrite.
All we can do is listen and learn to figure out who we appeal to. We need to figure out who our audience is and what it is about us that they like and then communicate with them until they feel like we are their voice.
Take your time, write the book. Just realize that getting to THE END … is just the beginning.
Don’t rush it. So many first time writers (including me) think the process is over when we write the words THE END. Not true. If you are prepared to accept criticism and make changes, your book will continue to blossom. I am going to take my own advice here and not beat this dead horse. Be patient … and tell your story. Feel free to contact me with your questions, comments or concerns at Rick@AuthorRickIncorvia.com I’m listening.