Don’t over-explain “default” objects and gestures

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From Nathan Bransford:

When novels are bloated with an excessive word count, the extra words are often where you’d least expect them.

In fact, when I’m editing, I often find that very long novels are among the most tightly plotted. The authors know the word count is a problem, so they trim all the extra scenes and streamline the storytelling.

So how do these novels still end up way too long?

It’s almost always at the sentence and the paragraph level. When nearly every sentence has a few unnecessary words and nearly every paragraph has a sentence or two that’s already apparent from context, it really, really adds up. Over the course of a novel these small, seemingly innocuous redundancies can mean tens of thousands of extra words.

I’ve talked about a few different ways of paring back your word count, but today I want to hone in on one pratfall in particular: over-explaining default objects and gestures.

. . . .

Whether we’re conscious of it or not, we all have roughly standard ideas of everyday objects and gestures. If you read about a hammer in a novel that a character uses to hit a nail, you and I might have very slightly different mental images but they’re roughly going to conform to a “standard” hammer.

. . . .

It’s not necessary to spend a paragraph describing what this particular hammer looks like. It’s just a hammer. Unless there’s some reason this particular hammer departs from the norm or some characteristic will be important later on…just let it be a hammer.

So, for instance, when you’re describing a car, you don’t need to point out that the car has “round black rubber tires.” That’s the default. Unless you tell us otherwise, we’re just going to assume that a car has black tires.

This extends to gestures as well. Sometimes I’ll see descriptions like:

Nathan stretched his right arm and extended an index finger toward the object that caught his interest.

So, uh… “Nathan pointed?” You can just say that!

Link to the rest at Nathan Bransford