Every once in a while (or more often than you think), masters of fiction create characters who are themselves writers, following (or birthing) the adage “write what you know.” I see this as an opportunity to glean some nuggets of wisdom about the author’s own processes and habits, as evidenced by his main characters themselves. So, if you see dialogue about writing written by a writer, it just may be a uniquely interesting insight into their own practice. Or, they’re trying to mislead the competition, muhahaha!
The following insight is from Haruki Murakami’s 1Q84 (a frightfully hard-to-pronounce title, always has me saying IQ…) where one of the protagonists, Tengo, is discussing revisions with his editor:
“Think of it this way, Tengo. Your readers have seen the sky with one moon in it any number of times, right? But I doubt they’ve seen a sky with two moons in it side by side. When you introduce things that most readers have never seen before into a piece of fiction, you have to describe them with as much precision and in as much detail as possible. What you can eliminate from fiction is the description of things that most readers have seen.”
“I get it,” Tengo said. Komatsu’s request made a lot of sense. “I’ll fill out the part where the two moons appear” (217).
First thing to get out of the way, and I’ll say it as plainly as can be: INFO-DUMPERS, THIS DOES NOT VALIDATE YOUR TECHNIQUE. PRECISION AND DETAIL 1) NEED NOT BE OVERLY LONG/WORDY AND 2) NEED NOT BE “DUMPED” ON THE READER ALL AT ONCE.
Now that that’s over with, I’d like to bring your attention to Komatsu’s last line, which I believe to be the best: “What you can eliminate from fiction is the description of things that most readers have seen.”
This is a suberb tip for editing a manuscript, especially one set in a Secondary World. This is a call to flex your imagination-muscles. And since humans are experience/reference-based beings, it a speculative fiction writer’s job to draw similarities between our imaginings and things with which people identify. More than anything, Komatsu’s/Haruki’s advice is a call to notice the things that people don’t often notice, and to describe new ideas in an extraordinary way.
So, as a piece of homework-and as homage to Murakami-cut away the ordinary after you’ve got all the description that you can muster barfed all over the your first draft. “The Ordinary” to me includes:
- formulaic description.
- repetitive/overly described objects.
- adverbs and adjectives where nouns and verbs suffice.
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Don’t steal my words. They’re mine. Zachary Barnes 2016©