Thursday, October 20, 2011

Lessons from Viable Paradise

Less is more. Until, of course, the point where your reader does not have enough to go on.

I tend to be heavy on the choreography in my writing -- every look, every tilt of the head, everything my characters pick up, put down, every nervous twitch, I tend to write it all down. And I'll admit that no, I probably don't need it all.

At VP, I got feedback from a real editor -- sat there and watched her cross out a phrase here and a sentence there, condensing actions into more succinct images. I could hear the screws creaking as the narrative tightened up. She didn't cut it all, because it's not all superfluous. My science fiction tends to come out in an objective voice and I do need enough body language -- in tandem with the dialogue -- to give the reader a hint of what the characters are thinking.

But I don't need to bog the reader down with every little pinky gesture and twitch of the mouth. I need to figure out what the giveaway is, in someone's mental state. The averted eyes? Picking at their nails? That's what the reader needs to see. Use the words you save on choreography for interesting descriptions or world-building.

When is less too little? How much is too much? There aren't any hard and fast answers, of course, only opinions. I wish there were solid answers, sometimes. But in general, I suspect that writers can get by on a bit less than they think they can.

What do you think?


Bluestocking said...

I think that's really instructive to see how an editor would look at your work. From what I've seen, your writing does have a deliberateness to it, but that seems like your personal style. I tend to have the opposite problem - people wanting more description, more lingering, in the scenes I write. Too much or too little, I guess we are all trying to find balance.

Puss in Boots said...

"Screws creaking" is an excellent way to describe what it feels like to watch her do that. She's amazing.

One of my other educational sources on this topic (because I tend to describe more than I need to, as well) has been Holly Black's writing. Her books are very tight; people only do things that further the plot, reveal something about themselves, or reveal something about the reader. Some day, I vow that I will attain this superpower! :D

Annalise Green said...

I totally agree! At the risk of sounding like a minimalist, I'm usually more impressed with people who do with a lot with a little, rather than when people who do a lot with a lot. Getting feedback from an editor sounds like a harrowing experience - but it sounds like you have a great attitude and that you got a lot out of it! That's awesome.

MKHutchins said...

I loved that first paragraph! I often err on the "not enough to go on" side, and that summed it up perfectly. Writing group is awesome at letting me know what's too sparse to make sense.

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