Stuff You Should Cut From Your Story


Not without reason did Arthur Quiller-Couch tell aspiring writers to "murder your darlings." What's fun to write (or even roleplay) isn't necessarily fun to read. Many stories I've encountered contain far too much fluff and stuffing that needs trimmed down. Here are a few things that really need edited out of your stories, if they contain them.


Scenes that don’t tell or show something we don’t already know.

For example, Kelly and her friend go to the party thrown by Hot Football Captain Ricky. They have a great time. Maybe there's a little drama, but the status quo is back to normal when they return home. And that’s pretty much all that happens - we don’t learn anything new about the characters, we don’t make any discoveries that will progress the plot or be important to the plot later, or what we do learn was already covered earlier. In other words, this scene is completely useless to the story - nothing of value would be lost if it were taken out, so take it out.


Scenes containing only dead end details and no plot progression or character development.

Kelly goes to the salon and has a chat with her hairdresser. We learn that Kelly and the hairdresser both love Wicked and Audis and Pomeranian puppies. And none of these will ever be important to the plot, nor does anything happen in this whole scene that will impact the rest of the plot at all.

A few elements that aren't going to become major plot points are all right - but whole scenes that contain nothing but dead-end details add nothing to the story, and should therefore be removed.


Infodump Scenes

An infodump scene exists for no other reason than to provide information to the reader. For example, in old films a new protagonist might be introduced to the audience via two otherwise-irrelevant characters talking about the protagonist. At the core, this is a Show, Don’t Tell issue - we should have been allowed to observe the character and see these traits in action for ourselves. Work whatever it is you want to tell the audience into the story itself.


Your opinions, “author’s notes,” personal messages, etc.

Under no circumstances do these things belong nestled into the story itself. None. Nada. Never. Do not pause the story to include a parenthesized message that you own a shirt just like the one your protagonist is wearing. Do not include mid-story shoutouts to your buddies. Do NOT include in-story notes on how you feel about a certain character or situation. If you feel you absolutely must include this stuff, save it for the end of the chapter.



Anything you'd skip over in someone else's story.

Consider all of the books you've read: how many times have you started a book and considered skipping ahead to see if it gets better after a slow or boring start? How many times have you given up? Any delay, especially if it's focused on superfluous details or if it basically amounts to a scenic detour, is a chance that the audience will lose patience, get bored, and find something more interesting to do.

Basically, if you wouldn't want to sit through it in something you're reading, don't try to make anyone else sit through it. If you believe there are details in these scenes that people need to know in these scenes, stop and list them. Ask yourself how you might convey this information in a more dynamic manner to the audience, and see if you can do that instead.



See also:
On Plot Structure & Plotting
Plot & Story Development Questions
Tips For Describing & Summarizing Your Story & Pitching Your Plot Ideas
Common, Yet Terrible Character Descriptors - And How To Fix Them (And Write Better Descriptions In General)



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