Back in the days of Dickens, Dostoyevsky, and Dumas, lengthy narrative was considered stylish. Life proceeded at a slower pace. The reader wandered through plot and scenery one morsel at a time, patient and unhurried. Today is a different story. The modern reader wants fast-paced action, narrative that flows like rushing water, page turners and cliffhangers and surprise twists. No wonder writers scream in agony. But despair not!
An easy solution to this problem is to excise unnecessary material. Pare down your writing. This doesn’t mean you have to give up elegance and wit. Nor does it mean that you have to write at a 3rd grade level. Most readers have vivid imaginations. If your character does something normal—goes to work in the morning—it’s not important to detail every action.
Before: On the subway into work that morning Frank read his latest book on economics and dozed. At his stop, he got up and exited the train. Then he walked the half mile to the office and entered the revolving door of the building. As he stepped out he came face-to-face with a gun.
After: The morning started like every morning until Frank entered his office building and came face-to-face with a gun.
The “before” example contains four steps that move the character from the subway into the office building. Three of those steps are unnecessary and somewhat boring. They tell us nothing about the character’s personality, thoughts, or emotions. The “after” example summarizes the character’s journey in one statement that not only delivers information but leaves the reader with a jolt.
Think of your words as brilliant leaves. Autumn is here and the leaves are falling. Soon the trees will be bare. Which leaves are still vibrant? Which ones are fading? The natural cycle of life and death strips the trees of their foliage. For writers, the editing process does the same with your story.
Is your writing just so much stuffing? Or have you carefully selected what you leave in? Make the most of your words and your readers will appreciate your choices.