Monday, February 21, 2011

Clever and Beautiful

This month has been BUSY!  Working on a March 1 deadline, which has taken over my life.  But in a good way.

During the brief moments of respite that I have right now, I've been revising a book that is very dear to my heart.  It's a bit of a labor of love that sometimes feels like more labor than love.  Still, I adore it so.  I haven't looked at the book much in maybe six months, so I returned to it with fresh eyes, trying to be a reader rather than a writer.  I had made a lot of notes to myself about particularly clever or beautiful passages in the draft that I was reading.

And yet, when I read them this time, they pulled me out of the story.  That's not to say that the lines weren't clever or beautiful or both, simply that they were writerly, which was part of the problem.

Take the following description of a character:

Emma's a sweet girl raised on sitcoms and infomercials.  Sometimes I think she's about as fragile as one of those little glass figurines you can buy for three easy payments of $19.95, but then she wrestles a drunk into a bed and I know that her bones are steel.

In my original draft, I made a note about how much I loved this description.  Yet, when I reread it, I had to stop and think about what kind of girl she'd be if she were raised on sitcoms and infomercials.  Optimistic? The kind who thought all problems were solvable in just thirty minutes? Someone with a short attention span?  I think this description is clever in that the first sentence calls to mind so many possibilities, then the second sentence describes her fragility while calling back to the infomercial in the first sentence, and then providing a contrast that topples the notion of her fragility.  But for the cleverness I'm left unsure just who this girl is.

Sure, as the story progresses, we learn more about her, but this is the first time I introduce her, so I should provide a clear, meaningful description of who my main character thinks she is. And this paragraph, while possibly clever, doesn't do that.  Not only does it pull me out of the story because I have to think about the meaning, but it isn't particularly meaningful.

The same can be said for beauty.  Nearly every sentence that I tagged as particularly beautiful was distracting.  The sentences were meaningful and even did their job, but the flowery language distracted me.

I suppose what I'm saying is that, as writers, sometimes we tend to get caught up in our own genius.  But beware lines that you're overly taken with.  Tag them and then take them out and see if they impact the story. There can be beauty in bold, plain statements, and cleverness in simplicity.


  1. oh, so so so true. In fact, it is often my most favorite lines that get cut in the end, for all the reasons that you stated. I fought it in my last WIP. There was a line I loved so much I literally rewrote the entire scene in an effort to keep it. And it just didn't work. So, the original scene came back and the line that I loved so dearly went out the door. *le sigh*

  2. I know. I've done this. I have this one paragraph that I keep trying to use. I've used it in like five stories and I always have to cut it. Eventually I'll bury it but it's so difficult.


Keep it clean, keep it classy, and jokes are always appreciated.