Posted by Lynne
Take a look at the following tidbits from my novel.
His office looked and smelled yellow, a combination of a bad paint job and cigarettes. Before I sat down, I noticed two empty packages in his wastebasket. Nicotine gum and Good-and-Plenty.
Writing details that capture our characters' personalities, their motivations, is essential. Yet only some of these details will make it into the finished novel; that's up to you. Both of the passages above captured important information I needed to know to draw authentic characters. But only one of these passages remains in my novel today, the other passage was cut in the revision process.
Even though the snipped out passage remains in a document file I call snippets and keeps, I will never use it again. Sitting in that file are several treasured phrases and paragraphs of mine no one will ever read; I killed them in revision.
While there are those of us who underwrite and those who overwrite early drafts, each of us in the end must make difficult choices to remove certain details that tell the reader the specific traits, quirks and desires that round out our characters. Amy and I call this word-by-word examination, the painful revision.
Your readers may never learn that your antagonist was bullied by a much smaller boy when he was growing up, or know that your protagonist once stole a candy bar from a convenience store when she was hypoglycemic and broke, but you know these things and each detail informs your writing; whether or not your readers will ever find these details on the page is irrelevant.
And though it hurts at first to let go, these fine distinctions of character are never truly lost. They stay in your mind, and because of this your characters embody them. Whether in the story or in your imagination, each facet helps your characters to shimmer. In this way, less is more.
So do you wonder which of the above passages lives on the page in Life Without Summer? Take a guess. And while you're at it, do you care to share with us how you feel about killing your own little darlings?