Susanne Dunlap

Writing Is Editing

In Writing Craft on September 8, 2010 at 10:20 am

This may be obvious to many, but I think it bears repeating. Here are the guidelines I give myself:

  1. As a writer, you have to know everything your characters are thinking and why. But it’s your job to figure out which of those things your reader needs to know.
  2. In your mind’s eye, you have to follow your characters around in the space they inhabit so that it feels completely real. But you don’t have to make your readers go to the bathroom with them.
  3. Chances are, you’ll write scenes where your characters reflect on what’s happened and explore their inner feelings. Cut them. (If you can’t make your readers understand these things through what your characters are doing and the way they’re acting, try harder.)
  4. In real life, we repeat ourselves, we say inane things, we spend stretches of time during the day where nothing significant happens. Novels are not real life. They’re the essence of life distilled and intensified.
  5. There ought to be a fifth point, because the rules of rhetoric demand it. I can’t think of one right now. What’s yours?
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  1. Mine is: give your readers the benefit of the doubt. Treat them like intelligent people, who get the point quickly. Do not go into excruciating detail about every nuance, location detail, sentiment, object, or the weather. Hints at background details are usually enough to create a vague picture. The reader’s mind will join the dots.

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