“Assume they are wearing pants.”
I’m not certain which famous author wrote that in an article I read in which rich and well-known writers were asked for their best piece of writing advice.
I’m also not certain how many times I’ve quoted it to creative writing students. It used to hang on a little sticky note on my computer monitor, but it’s probably lost amongst the dust bunnies behind my desk now, the sticky long since dried up.
I’m a wordy writer. If it weren’t for the countless editors who forced me to bend to their word count will, I probably never would have been published. I tend to over-tell you what’s happening, repeat myself, as it were.
When you’re writing a clever personal essay where voice is the most engaging feature, you can get away with extra words. But in fiction, readers have no patience for the writer who explains every turn of the doorknob and unfolding of a napkin.
‘Assume they are wearing pants’ means that there is much you can trust the reader to figure out on his or her own.
You don’t need to write that your character brushed his teeth or pulled on his pants or went to the potty or drove to work. You can trust your reader to figure out by the time your character ‘stepped out of the elevator on the sixth floor of the Bronson building ready to conquer the world or at least the part of the world that dealt with Fifteen-millimeter straws ’ that all of that has happened.
But maybe your character was late? You might need a few of those steps. ‘Fred brushed his teeth, as he drove, weaving in and out of his lane frustrated by the slowpoke in front of him mentally rehearsing his presentation which should have started ten minutes ago. In the elevator, he noticed his socks didn’t match and he had toothpaste on his tie.’
I still didn’t tell you that he put his pants on, but I’m pretty sure you know he’s wearing pants. Otherwise, everyone in the elevator would be staring at him, right?
Details are important, but the only details you need to include are the important ones.
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COMING AUGUST 7 2018 FROM Pegasus Books (available for preorder now: