It’s my birthday weekend, so this week’s blog post is a short one. Besides, I’m sure your time at the weekend, or whatever time of the day or week you’re reading this, feels equally important to you as the time I’m going to spend celebrating that I’ve made it to the age of thirty-two does to me.
And that’s kinda the point of this week’s blog post, that of being concise in your writing and not wasting readers’ time.
In my opinion, novels are too long. If you’ve read any of my Jake Hancock comedic mysteries, you might have noticed that they don’t take more than three hours to read. It isn’t because I’m lazy and unable to churn out a hundred-thousand-plus-word story. It’s because I don’t write a lot of description.
If someone came up to me in the street and said they have a story they want me to read, and that it takes between five and six hours to get through, I’d tell that lunatic to double the dosage of whatever medicine he’s been prescribed. My time’s too precious. I wouldn’t sit through a five-hour movie, so why do novelists expect readers to spend five hours reading their book?
I know what you’re thinking: Why don’t I read novellas or short stories? Because I don’t think the lengths of those formats are long enough for most writers to tell a fulfilling story in, unless the writer cuts out all the unnecessary description.
I care about reading three things in novels: 1) What characters say, 2) what they do, and 3) what they’re thinking, as long as what they’re thinking, doing, or saying is entertaining and/or moves the story along.
If they’re saying stuff to another character in a busy city street, and you want to set the scene, then write “a busy city street.” Believe it or not, most people have experienced a busy city street. They can imagine it for themselves. Don’t tell them that there’s a building that’s twenty-two stories high, and what the building’s constructed out of, or what models of cars are whizzing past the character.
Is it important that the buildings they imagine upon reading “busy city street” are only twenty-one stories high, or God forbid, only twenty stories high? Absolutely not. And crazily enough, when I read “busy city street” I imagined there were cars on the road. I’m good like that.
The same can be said for most descriptions in novels in most genres, with a few exceptions. Science fiction and fantasy, where worlds are constructed that we don’t live in already, can have at their descriptions, filling pages with it. Same goes for erotica, where reading descriptions of places and, err, characters is part and parcel of the experience.
For other fiction genres, keep the camera focused on what really matters: what the characters do, say, and think. And give readers back the time they were going to waste.
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