As a writer, I have this recurring problem. Film school education and the etiquette of screenwriting has a way of tarnishing my short stories, blog posts, and all of my writing in general.
In a screenplay, it is rude to overly describe sets, locations, characters, and really just about everything. Every excessive adjective punched onto the page steps on someone’s toes. Leave the wallpaper to the set designer. Don’t back the casting department into a corner by fussing over the characters’ appearances. Only list props necessary to the plot and let the professionals fill in the rest.
When you apply this way of thinking and the formatting of screenplays to narrative writing, you end up with front heavy information dumps followed by dialogue between vague, faceless characters in an unfurnished room somewhere sometime. This was my initial problem with narrative writing: a hesitance to describe anything other than the action (but only just a little bit because you don’t want to step on the director’s toes or stifle the actors’ performances).
To remedy this issue, I’ve wildly overcompensated. My rough drafts tend to describe every little thing with as many pretty words and phrases as I can conjure, killing all plot momentum along the way.
Needless to say, revision for me is a matter of carving it all up. For every word I add, I delete about ten.
Below are some words that I really liked, but deleted nonetheless. I won’t provide you with any context for these, because it’s probably more fun that way!
From Hellfire Chicken Wings:
“The bulging gut that hangs over top of the husband/father’s jeans and his stained work shirt are unseemly sights easily found topside, but the two stunted, crooked horns that protrude from his forehead, the cellulite-ridden tail coming to an arrow point at the end – those are unique to this particular location of Fat Mike’s Bar and Grill.
This customer’s misfortunate daughters have equally spaced red bumps in the corners of their own foreheads that look like mountainous pimples – the awkwardness of adolescence is not unique to the mortal world. Their crooked teeth are reined into line by grizzly-looking metal wires and brackets from a horror movie. They look roughly the same age, Irish twins maybe, but one appears just enough older for it to be noticeable. The younger has tangled brown hair that looks so grungy that Kristen thinks the girl might actually be a blonde with inordinately poor hygiene. The older has dark black hair, too dark, a bad dye job, with reddish blonde roots showing for about an inch and a half.
The matriarch of the family is enormous. Rolls of fat cascade down her wide frame, peaking at her hips – which must measure nearly three feet across. Her double chin has its own double chin. Her facial muscles can’t hold taut the weight of her cheeks and they sag in jowls. She is wearing light makeup on her face, which is an inhuman fire engine red, peppered with enough whiskers to make Kristen wonder whether a pointy black beard lurks within the folds of flesh hanging from the woman’s chin. Her eyes, “the window to the soul,” are vacant like a cow’s, hinting at the vacuum of intelligent thought within her skull. Her horns might be the most pronounced of the entire brood, though it is impossible to tell given the ways that facial fat has folded around them.
Regardless of whether or not the customers sitting in Kristen’s section are poorly-bred and unattractive or brilliantly handsome and brimming with seductive facial expressions, she sees their horns and pointy beards and arrow-ended tails all the same.
She can’t remember exactly when she began seeing people this way, whether it was a week, a month, or a year ago. These details just so integrated themselves into her perspective so well that she assumed that they were there the whole time and that she had never overlooked them.”
“Though I did not belong, the forest adopted me. It became a part of me, and I, a part of it.”
From This is Where…:
“My head bobbing just above the water for days, weeks, months.”
From Last Will and Testament:
“But that wasn’t true. The house was Wilbur – run down and neglected on the outside, untarnished and full of potential on the inside. Or at least that must have been the way that George had seen it.”
From Decomposing on Your Doorstep:
“It could be the setting of a fairy tale. Unnaturally lush green grass carpets an unused plot of farm land roughly fenced in and forgotten, complete with rusting tractors and farming equipment.”
“Born of inspiration greater than anything that ever fueled my painting, my ploy for notoriety will finally show the world my life’s work.”
From Antisocial Networking:
“The boredom went up in flames, kindling for Jake’s newfound fascination with strangers. Soon he was reading their 140-character opinions and insights on Twitter, inspecting the photographic evidence of their alien lives on Instagram, even tracking their professional developments on LinkedIn.”
“All of those insignificant, boring things that bore people can take on a whole new light simply by viewing them from a different perspective.”
Don’t worry, I will share with you the stories from which these words were amputated sometime, just not today!