The Part Readers Skip

There’s a quote by Elmore Leonard that goes  “Try to leave out the part that readers tend to skip”.  It’s almost koan like in its brevity and complexity.  I’ve heard it before and even heard it paraphrased by professors in creative writing classes and by supposed writing coaches online. 

To me what Leonard is talking about is passages in a novel or short story where nothing really happens.  Whether it be paragraphs of waxing poetic about the sunset or banal dialogue.  I’m guilty of this as anyone, in particular in first drafts.  I think all writers have their personal ‘pets’ or quirks they wanta write about, whether it be giving extensive back story for 30 pages on the antagonist’s cat or a mechanical breakdown of how much horsepower the protagonist’s car has during a high speed chase.

Especially when I was younger I would devote excessive time to such things, but I’m beginning to practice what’s been preached to me.  I think another way to convey what Leonard is saying is, ‘keep it moving’.  There should be something happening in the story at all times, whether it be internal or external conflict, resolution, or climax.  Especially for genre fiction, like the horror/thrillers I write.  This is easier said then done, and I still see it in published writing by professional authors.  Perhaps they get more leeway with this then a newbie but even if they are constantly on the NY Time’s Best Seller Lists I have literally thrown their book across the room because they belligerently violate Leonard’s suggestion.  I think writing passages where nothing really happens of relevance to character and/or plot other then the self indulgance of the author’s personal politics/interest is the surest way to kill a story.  To me its on par with having to sit through a mind numbing meeting or lecture.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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2 thoughts on “The Part Readers Skip

  1. I think all writers are guilty of this in some form or another. It’s easy to go off on a tangent even when you aren’t trying to. When I get hung up for a moment I have to remind myself “just keep it moving forward” wherever forward is. Now if I make a clear outline, as simplistic as I do, then I know where forward is but when I don’t, which is about 1/2 the time, I need that mantra “move it forward, move it forward”. It comes down to pacing for me just trying to not go too fast leaving out too many fine details and not so slow as to render the reader comatose. It’s a fine line to walk at times, what to write and what to leave to the reader’s imagination. I also have another mantra that you may find as useful as I do, KISS – Keep It Simple, Stupid. When in doubt keep it simple, if I’m unsure where I’m going it’s a good idea not to lead too far in one direction leaving myself no outs or only bad ones. I can’t draw to save my life so I have to be able to see a story completely in my head and try to describe what I see interestingly enough to make the reader want to keep reading. It’s easy for me to think of myself as the reader because that’s all I was for years really. I don’t mean to sound pretentious here if it comes across that way; I only mean to say you’re not alone. Crap, that sounded really gay, my apologies good sir. Kiss your woman, kick the dog, slam the door, do a shot of whiskey (and not some high brow Jack Daniels crap, I mean $5 rot gut, a man’s drink) and then fire off a gun or something. Or you can wuss out and ease that frustration with a Xanax prescription, your choice good buddy 🙂

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    • Not pretentious at all. You’re right it is fine line to walk. But I’ll take the whiskey over the xanax any day, my friend! Thanks for sharing yr thoughts.

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