On September 2, I’ve started my new job as Knowledge Management/Monitoring & Evaluation Specialist for The Demographic and Health Surveys Program (if you really want to know what I do, shoot me a message :P). Trying to wrap my brain around the myriad of new things that I will have to know and work with though has kept me from writing pretty anything else but stuff that needs to be written for work. The nice thing is that part of the reason I was chosen in the end was the fact that the interview team really liked my writing; I had to submit three writing samples, and while these were, obviously, professional pieces, it gave me a boost of confidence.
Now the fifth week is over and I think that I can spare a few brain cells for another blog post. Despite the fact that the writing I do at work and writing/re-writing my novel are very different, I did come across one of the characteristics that both types have in common: Don’t include stuff that really does not need to be there. In other words: Make it meaningful. It’s really bad when your readers go through your stuff and you can virtually see a bubble hovering above their heads that says something like “And why am I reading this, exactly? Why is this important for this report/story? Couldn’t this be a little shorter …? I get the idea!”
Sometimes it’s easy for a writer, to identify obsolete parts of a text, and sometimes it’s even easy to cut out those parts because you don’t feel a strong connection with them. Oftentimes though, you know that a part or a scene or dialog is unnecessary but you still want to keep it because you either really like the content, or maybe it took you a long time to write, or maybe it’s just something personal that you want to include in the story. That happened to me at the very beginning of my story: It started out with my main character Kyra waiting for the metro, and then riding the metro, and then switching lines, all while she is thinking about some stuff that is going on in her life. I wrote the first scene because I am a big fan of subway systems and find them fascinating, and since Kyra is a lot like me, it felt only natural to me that she shares this particular interest of mine. Unfortunately though, the whole shebang didn’t add anything interesting or of value to my story (insert sad face here). It took me a while (and a gentle nudge from two of my beta-readers) to realize that. Believe me when I say that it was with a heavy heart that I took out this very first scene … but I have to admit that the beginning of the story is a lot more fast-paced and interesting now, so I guess that the little scene had to be sacrificed for the greater good. As for Kyra’s interest in the subway: It still made its way into the story, but in a more subtle (and shorter) way.
Then you have instances where you experience a case of “cannot see the wood for the trees”: You are too involved with your text that you really don’t see parts that are maybe not necessary for the story to work, or at least not in the way/at the point you chose to include them. To avoid falling into that trap, always keep your readers in mind: What is it they really need to know? What can they deduce from your writing? Again this happened to me, this time in my second chapter. I had a bunch of information that I needed to convey to the reader, and the whole thing spanned about four pages in the beginning. Despite the fact that I knew the narrative was too long, the information was still something I needed my readers to know, or at least I thought that all of it was vital enough to be included in that narrative. One of my beta-readers (Cindy Young Turner, author of Thief of Hope) sat me down and gently pointed out that some of the things I dumped into these four pages can (and should) be weaved in to the story in different ways, but that some of the information is actually not necessary because the readers will be smart enough to figure it out. Discussing this with her was a great learning experience; it made me see that there are other ways to sneak in information without making it sound like a lecture and bore the readers with too much background story in one place. Some of the information now resides in dialog, some of it is sprinkled throughout the beginning of the story, and some I have yet to incorporate again somewhere else.
So, the next time you write a report or story, ask yourself: What’s really necessary and what can safely be omitted? It makes your writing so much more interesting, meaningful and, of course, beautiful.