A Writer’s Journal #1: Down with blubber!

ImageI’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.

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18 thoughts on “A Writer’s Journal #1: Down with blubber!

    • Usually I don’t seem to have so much trouble – but I think that’s because with my newer stories they’ve all started very action-based… with this one.. the entire chapter is seen through the eyes of one character.. there are no other people … so it’s all her thoughts and observation and no dialogue.. it’s going hideously slow.. and it’s even harder to edit. I keep wanting to speed up the pace, but there’s not a lot you can do with an observation chapter like this. It’s eating me alive T_T

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      • I actually think that I had the most trouble with the action-based beginnings (I suck at action in general, if I’m being totally honest). I’m going through all of them in my head right now, lol.
        I can’t tell you how much I hate beginnings. You have this much ( ) space to potentially draw people in. You can’t explain too much, but you have to explain enough. People have to have something to connect to or they would put it down. It’s always the part that I end up going back to and tweaking more than any other. I wish I could just skip it, haha.

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        • omgosh i’m the opposite XD Usually beginnings are super easy for me, it’s about mid-way through that I have the problems. I don’t outline, so by then I’m flailing my arms going “am I far enough in to call this mid point yet?” lol and I never know where it’s going XD

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      • I always love seeing the similarities/differences in the way people go about their writing. I’m sitting here wondering how in the world you don’t have problems with beginnings, lol.
        But I DO have that moment of, “Is this halfway?” though I’m not sure about the arm flailing; it’s more of a ????? than a frustration. There is much arm flailing done, but at different times. And I don’t outline either. I’ve tried; it doesn’t work. But I don’t generally have any problems halfway. I’m good once I get going with it, regardless of never really having much of a clue where I’m going either. Characters carry it home for me XD

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        • You are soooo lucky. I hit the halfway mark and I start questioning everything -_- so I end up editing.. and then it never gets anywhere. LOL I think my excitement for starting new things (let’s blame that one on OCD too) has something to do with why beginnings are so easy for me. I can usually sit down and write out a first chapter in less than an hour.. it’s everything after that that seems to be the problem. haha

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      • I don’t edit at all until I’m finished. Not ‘edit’. I write a chapter, read it, write another. Whenever I start a new day, I go back and read everything from the night before (all the while making little changes). Then, when I’m totally done, I edit it as a whole several times.
        Where is all the questioning coming from? Not knowing where to take it?

        I can blame a LOT of things on OCD, haha. I get somewhat excited about new things, but I usually get more excited about them once I spend more time and get fully invested (and that goes with anything).
        First chapter in an hour? YOU are lucky with that one.

        Maybe you should write my beginnings and I’ll do your middles?
        haha XD
        No, but really, I think the struggles of it are what make you sit there at the end with that intense feeling of satisfaction.
        They’re worth it, no matter how big a pain they are (a BIIIIIG one).
        XD

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  1. Gah, editing has to be one of the WORST parts about writing. A lot of writers have serious issues with it because they are on the ground floor when it comes to their novels, they are too close to them quite often to edit very well. I know I had this issue, I had to ask people to read and give me feedback. This was painful in its self though because I didn’t feel the story was at the point where people should be read by others XD That is a wonderful quote though, I know I will certainly keep that in mind.

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  2. I feel you there xD I have times where I have lots of description and then times where the story feels completely naked o-o This is some good advice though c: If you ever need a reader, I’d happily take a look ๐Ÿ™‚ Good luck! ๐Ÿ˜€

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