Not all description is fluff
I have an expression I like to use at work. I may or may not have coined it. It’s “cut the fluff,” and it’s supposed to mean, “Cut the excess from your paragraphs so that your texts flow smoothly and aren’t repetitive.” It also serves double duty for when you need to “fake swear,” like the expression, “Shut the front door!”
This expression has become my motto at work for editing texts. The trouble, as I discovered during StoryADay May, is that it’s becoming a habit to avoid writing words that might be unnecessary even when writing fiction. You might be thinking, “Amy, that sounds like a great habit, so why are you complaining?” and you’d be right (or you would be if it were completely true—I still write too many words all the time), except that I’ve always struggled with writing description in my stories, and now that struggle has grown harder.
During StoryADay May this year, I noticed that I wrote no description at all unless it was absolutely required for the story. I think some part of my brain now assumes that all description is fluff unless it is a plot point. I need to find a balance, and remind that part of my brain that not all description is fluff, so long as it’s balanced with the other things that matter, like characterization.
That’s something else I noticed while writing a story (almost) every day in May this year: I seem to only want to develop my characters. I think I place the most value on taking the reader on an emotional or mental journey with the character, but there can be more to a story, and my stories can be richer for it. I’m trying to remind myself that I can use their environment to develop my characters to help myself want to write the description. Mostly I need to remember that just because I can “see” the story doesn’t mean that the reader has an image in their minds that is at all similar to what I’m seeing. I have to paint the picture just far enough that the reader gets to imagine the rest.
Something that held me back during StoryADay May was that, with the lack of time, I was focused on getting to the end of each story every morning before work, rather than writing the best possible story each day regardless of whether I finished it. For me, this May was about quantity over quality, and that started to feel stale after a couple of weeks. In some cases, I didn’t write the story I wanted to write because I knew I didn’t have the time to do so. Regardless of the end product of each day, though, I took Julie’s new version of the month’s slogan to heart: be a writer every day. I think that’s a better goal and message, and it’s the one I accomplished.
For the rest of June, I want to work on what I struggled with most in May, which is description. Rather than try to write complete stories every day, I’m going to give myself 20 minutes each morning to write vignettes or character studies featuring plenty of description just to give myself more time to practice. I may start with characters from the book I’m plotting, or invent new characters for the practice assignments. The idea is to get better at describing with the five senses without losing my ability to get into a character’s head. Since I’ll be writing little character studies, there’s no need to worry about “finishing” the story. If a plot turns up, and I have the time to follow it through, that’s (of course) allowed, but not the point of the exercise.
Hopefully some of these little vignettes will be shareable. I’ll be reviewing my stories from May to see if any of them can be spruced up for sharing, too.
Did you do StoryADay this year? What are your plans now?