What to Leave Out

When I begin a writing project I usually have at least a few clear ideas in my head of what’s going to happen. Sometimes I have scenes mapped out very clearly in my head. One of the biggest problems I encountered in my early days of writing was how to string them all together.

I used to really struggle with transitions and adding in “filler.” But as I struggled my way through those scenes I was surprised to find how much they could add to the story. In fact, I often found that my bigger problems of plot and character were frequently solved in the little scenes.

Now, on the other side of thirteen years of writing, I am beginning to play with the other dilemma of what to leave out. I used to leave things out all the time out of laziness and call it a plot device only to find that I had to fill things in to make the story workable. (Pathetic, I know) Lately I have been relishing the details a little too much. I hate those books when you can’t tell what a character is thinking at a crucial moment because the other neglects to describe what they are thinking or expressing in body language. About two years ago though, I read a book that changed my perspective. It was written from the character’s point of view, yet the author included enough subtle information so that the reader could figure out what was really going on with this person. This may sound pretty basic, but it was important for me.

My style tends to be pretty direct. But now I am re-examining my scenes from a different perspective. Assuming that your readers are smart can change a lot about how you write.

But there is a second aspect to this struggle and it has to do with plot. Right now I am making some major edits to the ending of “Into the Void.” It’s going really well and I love how it ties up loose ends and adds some depth. But I am making a risky choice the narrative of what actually happens. Tolkien had some moments in his trilogy, “The Lord of the Rings” where you don’t find out what happens until one of the characters relates it to another. One of these instances is with the Paths of the Dead. We don’t really know what happened until Legolas and Gimli explain it to Merry and Pippin after the battle of Pelennor Fields is over. This isn’t a very popular plot choice, and for good reason. As a writer, I want you to feel like you are in the middle of the action. If my character is retelling what happened then you already know that they survived. But I think there is some value to it.

I tend to flirt with the line between omniscient and limited omniscient point of view. This is because I enjoy the intimacy of sticking with a character and discovering information along with them. But I also enjoy the dimension added when the reader gets glimpses that the main character doesn’t have. In truth, I probably stuck more closely to the limited omniscience in “The Creation of Jack” than I have been in “Into the Void.” That’s because “Into the Void” has much more complexity to it. But the risky choice that I am considering is to suddenly dial back the reader’s omniscience near the end. There are a number of climatic “aha” moments that the reader is going to witness in a unique way. Wish me luck! If it doesn’t work I will have to rewrite it. 🙁

What are your thoughts on POV? Which style is your favorite to write in? To read it? (Personally, the modern trend of first person present tense narration drives me crazy.)

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