JUST HIT DELETE!
Killing off your darlings doesn’t mean killing off your characters. It means that you need to kill off that prose that you love but doesn’t work! It’s hard because writers love words.
To cut out the snoozefest narrative for readers you need to start by digging out what Jerry Jenkins (and others- but I first heard this term from Jerry) calls on-the-nose writing. On the nose writing is that “filler” that describes everything our characters are doing. It may seem like you’re being descriptive but the truth is on-the-nose writing is tedious to read. Let’s take a look at an example.
Setting: Our character has been discovered. It is only a matter of hours before his crime will be revealed. He has decided that he would do anything to avoid going to jail, and he doesn’t want the people that orchestrated the crime to get away with it the making him the fall guy. He decides it is time to send his confession to the journalist that is about to put him. We enter this story where our character is in his office about to spill his guts…
Milo knew the gig was up he paced back and forth the floor of his office.
His phone rang, he looked at the screen, recognizing the number he flipped open his cell and said, “No Comment” then hung up and put his phone in his pocket.
This was the journalist fifth attempt to get a comment from him about the trust fund scam. Milo knew it was time to leave the country,. He wiped the sweat from his forehead he sat at his desk, took out his computer, opened it and began to type his confession.
On the nose writing is boring. It tells our reader we have no confidence in their imagination. Eliminating on-the-nose writing is easy once you recognize it.
Here are the phrases that are on-the-nose in our example:
- His phone rang, he looked at the screen, recognizing the number he flipped open his cell and said, “No Comment” then hung up and put his phone in his pocket.
- he sat at his desk, took out his computer opened it and began to type his confession
Here is an edit of the above paragraph
Milo paced the floor of his downtown office. His phone buzzed. He sighed and rubbed the back of his neck.
“No comment,” he said then pocketed the phone.
The journalist had hounded him for days trying to get the scoop on his involvement in the trust fund scam. Wiping the trickle of sweat from his forehead he decided it was time to leave town, but not before telling his side of the story. Sitting at his desk he began to type out a confession.
Let’s look at the edits from the example I gave you:
- Readers understand if your character’s phone rings that they will open the phone after looking at the screen. Our dialogue tells the reader he knew who was calling. If he pockets his phone, saying he hung up isn’t necessary.
- Regarding the confession, assuming we have established it is a modern-day story if our character is typing readers are pretty certain he is using his computer. To do that had to get it out, open it and type. Don’t bog them down with that mundane writing. It is a waste of time and words.
- I removed the “back and forth” as it is redundant of “pacing”
- I put action to the decision by adding the wiping of sweat – THIS is showing not telling, your reader will see that he is nervous. This is not on-the-nose writing this is using your words to show emotions.
Readers love action! When. You delete the boring you thrill the reader and demonstrate that you trust them to fill in the gaps. Do your reader and editors a favor get to the meat, hit delete!