Cut Out All the Unnecessary Bits

cut it outAs stated before, I really like Blake Crouch’s first book in the Wayward Pines series, simply titled Pines.  It is a science-fiction mystery-thriller packed with twists and turns and strange and wonderful plot developments.  I felt that Crouch does a fantastic job of dropping little clues here and there to keep a reader guessing while never once leaving us spinning in a long explanation of events or jumping out to tell an unnecessary back story.

With this in mind, I picked up the second book, Wayward Pines.  I’m not sure what happened to Crouch between the two books.  Perhaps his editor pressured him for a sequel and he had to scramble to do so, but I just couldn’t get through the second book.  I put it down half-way, and for reasons I am about to share here on this blog post.

There were several (and I mean nearly every other chapter) gratuitous and pornographic sex scenes in this book that were (I felt) completely unnecessary and did not drive the story forward at all.  They were simply in there for the purpose of having a sex scene.  My feeling about putting extremely descriptive sex scenes in a novel should be held for another post, but let me just say that if I wanted to read erotica I would have picked up erotica, not a science-fiction thriller whose prequel did not contain anything like that at all.

It was almost like another writer wrote the sequel.

With that said, I’ll get to the topic of this post which is the act of inserting topics or scenes in our novels that do not drive the story along at all.  For instance, the detailed description of the scenes (and, quite frankly, the sex itself) could have been completely removed from Crouch’s narrative and it wouldn’t have lost a thing.  I still want to know what is going on in Wayward Pines, but I don’t want to have to skip over any of it to do so.  I wrote an implied sex scene in This Broken Earth, but it was used to cause the woman in the story to experience guilt about her dead husband which created another conflict on top of all of the other conflicts she was experiencing.  Crouch’s scenes are nothing like that and do not seem to have any purpose at all.

How many times have we placed unimportant details in our novel thinking that they were important, only to find that readers are turned off by our constant descriptions of what characters eat, our detailed seven page diatribe about another character’s back story, or the third or fourth character’s perspective on the same event we already wrote about.

Modern readers are people who are extremely busy.  We are competing against great television, the latest YouTube video, social media, and whether or not instagraming the next meal.  As writers, we must understand this concept or we will end up boring our readers to death or simply turning them off.  The last thing we want is our reader to do is to skip ahead because they are either bored or assaulted by something we wrote.  We have to have respect for our readers and write prose that will entertain, make readers think, but also cut straight to the chase.

The other option is to be a great writer.  I am currently reading The Intruders by Michael Marshall.  Marshall begins the novel with a first chapter that tells of an outcast girl who falls for a popular boy.  He notices her, only that “a deal was done in some gilded back room — or the backseat of a gilded car, more likely” and she ends up slitting her wrists in a bathtub over it.  All of this is important to the novel in that it sets up the rest of it and the strange events that occur later, but it doesn’t detract from the story.  The point is that Marshall is so good with prose that we don’t really notice all the ADD twists away from the narrative because they are quaint and interesting.  However, most of us can’t do this.  It takes much practice and work to get there.  Marshall is not only talented, but he has also been at the writing game a long time.  He also has an endorsement from Stephen King, for what it’s worth.

What do you think?  Have you ever been reading a novel and run across a part that just didn’t need to be in the novel?   Do you have trouble with this issue?  Comment on it below.

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2 thoughts on “Cut Out All the Unnecessary Bits

  1. “The last thing we want is our reader to do is to skip ahead.” Bravo, Roger! Writers who engage in tedious exposition tend to telegraph it was well. I’m reading a novel right now that teeters on that brink. In one scene, a superfluous character who does nothing to advance the plot somehow is given a forum by the author to orate at length to the other characters. The story he tells is not witty, insightful, metaphorical, or otherwise relevant. It’s as if the novel came in 5 pages too short and the writer solved it by cramming a pointless scene in to pad it out. I saw it coming once a page of exposition was dedicated to this random party guest’s fame for story telling. Once we got into describing his clothing and the fabrics used, I knew he was about to open his mouth and swallow up all the momentum.

    My aim with my current WiP is to leave readers wanting more. I want them to be sad when it’s over, and I want them to think about the characters later. I don’t know if I will be successful at those things, but I think my efforts that direction will keep things lean and mean.

    As for sex scenes… I’m no prude. Cripes, I used to be a drummer in a metal band. That should tell you all you need to know. But I have no interest in a detailed play by play regarding two characters intimate encounter if it serves no purpose but to titillate the reader.More power to readers who want that; I know there’s a market and writers willing to supply it, so by all means read that if it’s one’s preference. But your experience sounds like a bait and switch. If I buy a sci-fi book, I want sci-fi.

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