I’ve spent my entire day pouring over the first five pages of a novel I finished a few years back and never published. Why? Because I promised myself that this year, I would try to get something published. So here I am, mid-way into April, and I’m just getting started. Unfortunately, I’ve been having some serious issues with this novel.
What issues you ask? Mainly… the first chapter. I did what I’ve been told countless times not to do: I started with the character waking up. I don’t know why I started my story where I did, but with so little happening, I’ve found that I’ve filled the space with a metric crap-ton of description. I guess when I wrote it I was trying to ease into the story by describing the world around my character. I wanted to give a contrast of what her life was like before the events of this story start to take it over… and while it’s got some strong imagery, it didn’t take me long to realize that as a consequence, my story starts ridiculously slow.
The problem is, I don’t want to rewrite the first chapter of my story – not because I’m particularly fond of it… I have no problem murdering my darlings, as Hemingway put it. No, the problem is that the story has to start here. This chapter is important to the development of the character and setting her up for what happens in just a few chapters. So how do I fix it?
Well, frustrated after re-editing the same 5 pages for the past 6 and a half hours, I Googled “when is description in writing too much?” on a whim. I came across a lot of articles about description and what’s good and bad.. all of which I knew, but knowing the “rules” isn’t the same as following them. Finally, I came across a quote that sparked a change in my brain:
Strip your writing to the bare bones. That is your story. Everything else is blubber.
I couldn’t tell you why, but it helped. I went back, Looked at the first page for the umpteenth time today, stripped it down to the main idea I wanted to get across, and tossed the rest away. I trimmed 91 words. That is a disgusting amount of description on one page–and none of it was needed.
Let this be a reminder for other aspiring authors. Down with the blubber.