I’m working with a client on her first novel — something I love to do, watching someone take the plunge and free the words within her soul — and we discussed the importance of letting our stories unfold. I think many first-time writers tend to want to tell the reader everything there is to know about what their characters see, how they feel, and what they did, are doing, and will do. The problem is that when we do all those things, our books can become weighed down. They can become cluttered with too much background info — called an “information dump” — or idle observations or thoughts that have nothing to do with the story you’re trying to tell. With all this extra and extraneous knowledge, readers can become confused, and we authors can lose focus and wind up dancing around what our books are really about. The story and characterization can get lost in the shuffle.
Whether we’re working on our first chapter or our last, we need to always let our characters and events drive the story. If Character A is taking the bus to work, readers don’t need to know about every fast food place she passes, exactly what radio stations she is surfing through, or what she thinks at every moment of her trip. Be selective in what you tell the reader. Think: Is this important? to the plot? to the character? Does this observation convey something that is relevant or interesting? If not, chances are you can probably delete it.
As the weather outside turns delightful (today, it’s picture-perfect in New York), make it your mission to rid your books of all those cluttering details. Closets aren’t the only thing that can use a good spring cleaning.