Saturday, March 09, 2013

 

Clear the Clutter

Our cluttered refrigerator door.
Photo | Elizabeth K Humphrey
Clutter. Many of us have it. One area of clutter in my house is the refrigerator door. (Yes, to the left.)

Clutter can also appear in our writing.

This week, while editing a couple pieces of writing, I ran across clutter in sentences that made me think of my kids' refrigerator art. The work is all on display and we keep adding to it--proud of all the work and believing that it all needs to be displayed.

One sentence I ran across was something like this:

She walked quickly to a closet full of clothes and pulled a T-shirt from a shelf and a skirt from a wire hanger and dressed slowly then sat in the middle of the couch, laughing.

Clutter!

If I'm in the middle of a story, I want to see action. Isn't this action? There is movement--she's getting dressed, right? Isn't that enough? Well, I don't know about you, but I don't want to wade through all that action to get to the important action of the character's laughter.

Why do we need to work through a long sentence of walking, pulling, dressing, sitting, and laughing?

Often writers sense that the reader needs to "see" all the actions. Just like a parent needs to see all the art on the refrigerator. But when you try to show everything, you cover or avoid other elements that might be important.

Here are some tips to attack the clutter in your work:

  • Trim excess in your sentences: If you are in love with some of the work, tuck it away for later.
  • Determine what actions are essential to the plot: Is the action moving the story forward or is it treading water and not moving?
  • Read your work aloud: When you hear your story out loud, it helps you catch clutter in your sentences. You hear what is working and what's not.
  • Review how you tell a story to a friend: Which details do you include, which ones do you exclude? (Is the wire hanger really an essential element in the story?)

I'm spending the weekend clearing out some clutter. How about you?

Elizabeth King Humphrey is a writer and editor living in North Carolina. She plans some spring cleaning this weekend, at her keyboard and not in her closet or, ahem, her refrigerator door.

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7 Comments:

OpenID fourbroadsinabus said...

My problem seems to be the opposite. I'm a chronic re-writer/editor and tend to end up with a very bad imitation of Hemingway! Then I have to go in and add some setting so at least people have some help picturing my scene.

8:40 AM  
Blogger Julie Luek said...

I write articles, and one of the first things I do with a revision is clear the clutter, and boy can I clutter. I'm a "that" insertion queen.

9:29 AM  
Blogger Angela said...

My fridge used to look like that (maybe worse!) until I moved recently. Moving caused me to take everything off, pack it away, and put up only the most important pictures. I think it's the same with writing. Take a step back, maybe change your scenery (write in a cafe) or perspective (read your work at a critique group), and the clutter may become more apparent. Obviously, I love the comparison! LOL. Great tips, Elizabeth!

11:09 AM  
Blogger Margo Dill said...

Elizabeth:
I think your tips are great--my critique group helps me find the clutter all the time. I'm not sure if I can see it myself, but the suggestion of reading your work aloud is a great idea to catch some of the clutter yourself. :)

1:01 PM  
Blogger Margo Dill said...

Elizabeth:
I think your tips are great--my critique group helps me find the clutter all the time. I'm not sure if I can see it myself, but the suggestion of reading your work aloud is a great idea to catch some of the clutter yourself. :)

1:02 PM  
Blogger Elizabeth King Humphrey said...

Thanks for the feedback! I appreciate that we all have our writing idiosyncrasies...and cluttered refrigerator doors. :)

4:04 PM  
Blogger LuAnn Schindler said...

Looks like my fridge: covered with drawings from the grandkids!! :)

Best advice you wrote - read the piece aloud. You can "read it in your head" but until you actually hear the spoken word, your eyes wander over the clutter. Hearing it makes you CLEAR it!! :)

9:20 PM  

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