Fluff and Feathers, What NOT To Put In Your Book or Screenplay
Have you ever watched a movie and been in awe of the pace, the witty dialogue? Or read a book that grabs you and doesn’t let you go for the same reason? Don’t you wish you’d written it?
I have and when it happens, I’m jealous, envious, and even pouty as all get out. I WANT TO WRITE LIKE THAT.
In my opinion we all can, but we have to identify the fluff and feathers in our writing that the reader usually skims.
I didn’t always skim and I bet you didn’t either. I used to devour all those yummy settings and the witty inconsequential dialogue. But as my reading time grew shorter and my tastes changed, I realized I wanted the grit of the story; the character’s issues. And I wanted it to come out in interesting action and vital dialogue that moves the story forward and allows me to mentally "see" the story as I read.
J.D. Robb writes pretty much all action and dialogue with carefully chosen images that let us know immediately we’re in the future. I can easily imagine what an "autochef" looks like and its use when I read that a character gets a steaming plate of chicken out of it. I don’t need a long winded description. And when Eve Dallas shimmies out of a fancy dress and puts on her jeans, her behavior change shows me she’s more in control. I’ve got an immediate mental image I can latch onto and I understand her character without internal narrative.
Nor do I have any trouble visualizing anger when a character utters a masterfully crafted slight, and I can easily feel love with a carefully chosen endearment that wouldn’t ordinarily cross a character’s lips. Tags become redundant and boring.
As a screenwriter, dialogue tags aren’t available to me--there’s no place for them--and I certainly don’t have room to explain anything, so I’ve become a much stronger writer because I must. And I’m certain you’ll write more powerfully if you don’t allow yourself to rely on tags or explanations to make sure the emotion or action is understood.
So be ruthless with your editing. You’ll see if your story is all about your character’s struggles and triumphs, or if you’ve hidden them beneath all the fluff and feathers. I promise you’ll become a stronger writer and your readers will reward you.