Sunday, April 12, 2015

A Rose in a Cornfield Is a…

…weed. Misplaced, the most exquisite, evocative addition feels like…a mistake.

We’ve all experienced it:  “What a sentence! I love it! I can’t even believe I wrote it! Must’ve come directly from the Muse.” And yet, if you can’t find the right location for that fantastic sentence, you must let it go.

It helps to view your novel as a limited area of ground. You want to make the most of every inch, not let things that don’t belong there insidiously sneak in.


…realize that readers need to know something and leave it wherever you happened to think of it.

…interrupt the action with distracting backstory or description. Note that distraction differs from
slowing down—teasing out suspense. The former is accidental, the latter deliberate.

…weigh down your story with detail that feels as relevant as Aunt Agatha’s best friend’s grandma’s traditional recipe for last-till-spring Christmas Fruitcake.

…add a brief passage about the Galapagos Islands because you did lots of research on it and long to share your discoveries about marine iguanas and Blue-Footed Boobies.


…add “set up” just prior to “pay off,” so readers never wonder why they heard about this.

…limit details to those which enhance plot, deepen characterization, or foreshadow themes.

…make details “double-duty”: they advance plot while setting scene, or they add scenery while suggesting atmosphere, contribute irony to the plot, and so on.

…use transitions so readers can grasp the connections between details that might be linked only in the author’s mind.

…use stage business, or character gesture or behavior, to support the dialogue.

…remember that flowers set seeds. In fiction or soil, they grow wherever they happen to fall.

It’s easy to delete clumsy sentences, boring references, and paragraphs that go nowhere. Far harder is realizing that you’ve written something really good and have nowhere to put it. But whatever doesn’t add subtracts. Aren’t you willing to make hard sacrifices for your readers?

Tip: A great sentence or detail in the wrong place is a…rose in a cornfield.

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