In life things go on in between events, in between seeing a friend, live has happened. They have done things, seen things, experienced things, lived. And so have you. We don’t always know what has happened, sometimes we are told, sometimes we aren’t, but we won’t ever experience those things.
The same thing happens in books.
We can’t possibly experience every single moment of the characters’ lives (with some exceptions). So we are told the important bits, the bits that matter, the bits that we need to piece the story together.
One thing that really turns me off, and always marks out an inexperienced writer is the need to catalogue every single moment of a characters life. I was reminded of this recently when writing a case-study on Twilight (don’t get excited – it was about glorification of domestic abuse and brain washing of women to accept suppression) and one of the things I noticed that really grated on me was how Meyer poured out every aspect of Bella’s life. It reads like a list – she gets up. She gets dressed. She goes down stairs. She makes breakfast. She has pancakes. She eats the pancakes. Her dad comes downstairs. She makes his breakfast. He eats his breakfast. She takes the dishes to the sink. She washes the dishes.
Seriously? And how many times do we need to read about Bella making dinner?
It’s just one example, but it makes my point.
We’ve all done it at some stage – listed all the items in a shopping cart, went into far too much detail about what clothes the characters are wearing. It’s part of having sight as a primary sense.
Think about it like this, we based our lives on what we see, and we see so much, much more than we can ever put into words. But we want to put it into words. We instinctively want to tell the reader everything that happens, everything we see.
But we can’t.
It’s a hard habit to break, and it takes time and rewiring of our brains.
There’s no easy way to do it, we need to be ruthless. Look at what we have written and strike out everything that the reader doesn’t need to know. For instance, will it influence the story if the character is wearing their favourite red boots that they got in the sale at Saks? Does it tell us anything about the character? If yes then keep it in, if no then strike it out. Do we need to know all the shows the character watched last night before bed? No? Then get it out.
Over time you’ll save yourself so much editing time, make your story smoother and develop your skills at storytelling.
And remember, readers are smart. They don’t need to know everything, they can piece it together all by themselves.
Now, get out there and experience something. Just don’t tell me about it.