Friday, October 28, 2011

Reason vs justification

I want to say a few words on the idea that writers should be sure everything they include in their fiction is necessary, whether it's purpose is to move the plot forward or for  characterization.

It's related to my opinion that many unpublished writers don't have a lot of confidence in their ability. We don't have an automatic filter that lets us know what can stay and what doesn't need to be there. Most of us don't know anybody with editor training who can walk us through the process. Basically, we have to guess.

That leads us to worrying that we aren't explaining the characters clearly enough. We add on. We get sucked into that ubiquitous quicksand of characters and plot. We tell ourselves the MC's flashback to the time his sick puppy was kicked by the mailman is necessary to show why the MC is a twisted adult. It's showing, to boot, so of course the flashback is necessary.

Well, maybe, and maybe not. It's perilously easy to cross the line between what's necessary and what's justification.

My crit buddy told me that the fight scene between Razor and Coyote in my current draft of chapter one doesn't need to be that long. I have reasons why it's written that way, but his reaction makes me question whether those reasons are in fact justification.

Do I need to make the point that scene is there for? How would the story change if I did shorten it, or remove it? Is all that detail there because the truth is I think I did a great job on it?

I'll add that my local writers' group liked the fight, but that doesn't mean it wouldn't benefit from tweaking.

It's good to have self-confidence in what we write. It's even necessary in my opinion. It's got to stay manageable though. It's hard to write something we love (a phrase or a chapter) and then hear that people are not getting out of it what we intended. Really listen to yourself and your inner editor. If you find yourself offering reason after reason why you've included something, consider that maybe it needs to be changed. Ouch, I know.

Robert Kernen said that not every idea, not even every good one, needs to be included. I'd rather take out some stuff I like and have most people tell me they really enjoyed the whole work, than keep stuff I like and have readers point out bunches of stuff that didn't work for them.

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