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Thursday, 9 May 2013

Springclean your work - says Jenny Harrison

“Clearing out the Clutter” is the title of an article in the May/June 2013 issue of the American Writer’s Digest.

The article has a number of good ideas on how to tame those messy first/second/third drafts that we writers sometimes think are perfect. No, always think are perfect. The author, David Corbett, starts with the oft-remembered but seldom followed piece of good advice.

Murder your darlings. Oh dear, how often have we sat with our group of writers and listened to the blah-blah of paragraphs out of context or simply way-out. Beautiful phrases, lovely description, or simply plain waffle that fills up the space, but never anything that remotely sends the story forward.

He slurped his coffee and said, “Yum-yum, that’s good”.  The body lay between the book cases....

One piece of Corbett’s advice that rang true was about the cutting out of excess clutter. Annie Dillard has a good phrase for it; she calls it ‘the old one-two”. We say something rather well; we follow that with a re-phrasing, just in case the reader didn’t get it. We describe an emotion, or a reaction and then go on and on and on, layering reaction after reaction.

Lisa felt his strong arms around her. She shivered. The hair on her arms stood up on end. The blood in her veins curdled. Her toes curled. The ventricle in her heart convulsed.

And so on, ad nauseam! (Okay, pretty far out, but you know what I mean!)

Enough, already! Respect your readers. They will use their imaginations and will probably paint a better picture of the scene than you can.

Perhaps this should also apply to sex scenes that are notoriously hard to write without going on about the boring old anatomical details of the act. Time past when a couple kissed, then the door closed. We readers were left to imagine the forthcoming events. And boy! Did our imaginations run riot! Repeated and explicit sex scenes, like pornography, become boring after a while. It’s the same-old, same-old.

Say it once, say it well and move on. That’s sound advice from David Corbett

And to that I say – Oh, yes!

Jenny Harrison

1 comment:

  1. Always in favour of clutter-clearing, because it makes everything else so much easier when you can see where you're going. (Both in your deathless prose and the spare room cupboard!)