Fiction Writing: Getting Rid of the Clutter

Fiction Writing: Getting Rid of the Clutter

I was talking with a co-worker the other day and she confided that she is at a cross-point in her life. Her work, although she doesn’t mind it, is not fulfilling. For some time now she occasionally gets that ache in the pit of her stomach indicating that it is time for a change. But of course there is life and all that it comprises—a daughter, a demanding job, a mortgage, friends and their bevy of problems and the moving parts that come with all of it. She said to me she wants to get away—really get away from it all in order to get some perspective and find out what direction to take with her life. She plans to rent her house out to her daughter, pay someone to maintain her place and then sneak away to a remote beach to rest, relax and silence the noise for about a year or so. Sounds awesome and kudos to her and others who possess such a privilege. But most of us must resort to a more practical means of regrouping. It’s not always a matter of physically getting away from it all, but getting the unnecessary elements away from us—the junk mail, the spam, the stuff that doesn’t add value to our lives but simply takes up space.  A matter of getting rid of burdens we have no business carrying. There’s nothing more unsettling than being boggled down with someone else’s load.   illustration_0710_clutter Getting rid of the clutter, can be a challenge. It’s hard to say goodbye to those things, people or elements that have been in our space for as far back as we can remember. It takes discipline, a motivation to change and a lot of prayer. Cutting away at coarse, complex, long forming vines of clutter that have snaked their way into our lives can be painful, after all they have become—somewhere in our journey—a part of us, however toxic they may be. Fiction writing comes with the same issues. Someone asks us what our story is about and we began to describe in painful detail, the entire plot and all of its intertwined subplots while our listener nods hoping we will eventually get to the point, or, even a point. And suddenly we realize we aren’t even sure. Move with Focus A good story can’t be rushed. It doesn’t magically appear in perfect form. Although readers really want to get to the point, they want to enjoy the journey. I just finished reading The Girl on the Train, a thriller by Paula Hawkins. The author takes time to describe the protagonist to emerge us into her world, her way of thinking, her personal struggles—which of course eventually connects us to her external dilemma. Her life was simple–a simple disaster. But the story moved forward with slow, deliberate steps. The subplots were intertwined but did not upstage the main plot. The focus was clearly on the protagonist, Rachel. The subplots were properly introduced, but you always knew who the story was really about. That is often the problem with focus—remembering who and what the story is really about. Subplots may be juicy and exciting but if they overwhelm the plot instead of enhancing it, it is too much. If the minor characters are more detailed or interesting than your main character they have to be eliminated or toned down. Believe in the Story Often times along the way we begin to believe that our story isn’t enough. We began to add stuff to make it juicer and more interesting, desperate to hold our readers’ attention. But the truth is a good story stands alone—if indeed it is a good story. Sometimes it’s a matter of having faith in our writing—our ability to write the story and write it well. If you don’t believe in the story, or your ability to tell the story, your reader will know. Write with the confidence that this story must be told this way. Let’s face it, you can take a moment in time, an event a person and derive many different stories, from the same instance or about the same person. But when you write, you will do it your way, from your perspective. It is, after all, what makes it uniquely you. It is why you are the author and no one else. If you began to doubt the ability to do so it could be from a couple of reasons: 1) You lack confidence in your writing skills at this point; 2) The story doesn’t possess enough meaning for you. If one of these reasons are applicable then your problem is foundational and must be dealt with before continuing on. Remove everything that isn’t the story Once you are moving with confidence get rid of everything that does not impact the outcome. If you began to describe the town or city in which your protagonist lives, make sure it is relevant to the story, i.e., the mundane of the city counters the excitement that stirs within her or him, or parallels the mundane feeling within. Or, the busyness of the city helps her to hide out, disappear inside of her pain, she has become irrelevant to the world around her. On the other hand, your reader probably doesn’t need a detailed description of her looks unless they are important to how she feels about herself or how others perceive her. The reader will grow tired of a detailed description of the look of each character if it does not add value. Write Often I’ve found out the more often you write the easier it is to get to the point. For some reason prolonging the story prompts you to add more moving parts. It gives you time to think of bright ideas and interesting twists and turns that confuses and complicates. Write on through. Write often, leaving the clutter behind.