Stuff You Should Cut From Your Story

Not without reason did Arthur Quiller-Couch tell aspiring writers to "murder your darlings." What's fun to write (or even roleplay) isn't necessarily fun to read. Many stories I've encountered contain far too much fluff and stuffing that needs trimmed down. Here are a few things that really need edited out of your stories, if they contain them.

Scenes/passages that don't do anything useful for the story or your readers.

Every scene or passage should do something useful. Examples include:

For example, Kelly and her best friend Betsy are two unpopular girls. They get invited to a party thrown by Hot Football Captain Ricky. They go to the party and have a great time, but at the end of it the status quo remains the same. They don't learn or realize anything that moves their stories forward, nor do we learn anything new about them. They didn't meet anyone who will become important to the story later, nor did they develop any new feelings for anyone. Basically, it's just a thing that happened and has no relevance on the rest of the story.

Any scene or passage that doesn't change the status quo in a way that moves the story forward or doesn't help the audience get a sense of what's going on is probably just bogging down your story. If you really like it, ask yourself if you can add something to it that makes it more useful.

Scenes/passages containing only dead-end details about characters.

It's almost always fun to learn new things about characters, but you don't want to devote whole scenes or passages to divulging information that's completely irrelevant to the story. For example, Kelly goes out to lunch with Betsy, where she talks about how much she loves Wicked, pomeranian puppies, and strawberry lipgloss. But none of this will have any relevance on the plot later, and that's the only thing that gets accomplished here.

Feel free to reveal these details at some point, but try and work them into a scene or passage that actually goes somewhere. Alternatively, try and figure out how the parfait scene can move things forward somehow.

Infodump scenes/passages

An infodump exists for no other reason than to provide information to your audience, and it's basically the least-elegant method of delivering information short of making them read through your Twitter to understand what's going on in your story.

For example, old films sometimes had two otherwise-irrelevant characters talk about the film's protagonist so the audience would be able to learn important details about this character, rather than simply letting us watch the protagonist and observe them for themselves. Basically, movies that did this told us what they should have shown us.

If your scene/passage basically amounts to an infodump, it should probably go. Instead, try to figure out how you can work whatever information you want to give the audience into the story proper and do that instead.

Excessive characters

It's not always bad to have a lot of characters, but there's still such a thing as too many. It helps to figure out the bare minimum you need, then build up around that as it serves and enriches your story. Signs you might have too many characters include:

Generally, if a character doesn't move the plot forward, doesn't contribute to someone's character development, isn't used to establish context or deliver information, or doesn't serve a logical function (like a server at a restaurant), you don't need that character.

Excessive/redundant description.

Yes, you want to describe things. You absolutely don't want to leave people picturing shapeless blobs meandering through white rooms. But you also need to keep tabs on how many times you're describing things and make sure you don't overdo it.

It's mostly characters who get overdescribed; writers often redescribe them every page or so, even though there's no way we've forgotten how they look by now and there are more interesting and important things going on. If you've already described how your character looks and there's no special reason we should be paying attention to that right now, you should probably leave it out. (And while you're at it, ask yourself if you might be underdescribing the scenery and atmosphere - writers frequently focus on how their characters look, but neglect to describe everything else.)

Writers can end up overdetailing characters who only appear for a few seconds. While it's good to recognize that the local restaurant server is a human being with a name and family, we don't need to hear her whole entire life story if she's only going to be there for a few seconds; unless Sherlock Holmes feels like showing off.

Your opinions, "author's notes," personal messages, etc.

Under no circumstances do these belong in the body of your story itself. It's super annoying when the story's very own author can't refrain from being the obnoxious loudmouth who sits over your shoulder making unsolicited comments while you're just trying to enjoy the story. If you really feel you need to add this stuff, save it for the end of the chapter.

Anything you'd skip over in someone else's story.

Think back to all the books you've read and the movies you've watched. Was there ever anything you wanted to skip or gloss over? Was anything so boring or slow that you actually gave up? If it would bore you in somebody else's story, you can be pretty confident it'll bore other people in yours. If there are details in these sections that you think people need to know, try to work them in somewhere else.

See also:
On Plot Structure & Plotting
Plot & Story Development Questions
Tips For Describing & Summarizing Your Story & Pitching Your Plot Ideas

Dropping In Characterization Without Dragging The Story
Common, Yet Terrible Character Descriptors - And How To Fix Them (And Write Better Descriptions In General)

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