Just leave out the boring parts

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A big problem with my book was that I would approach scenes by thinking about what the protagonist would do next, and then I’d write all those things. It’s a kind of freewriting, like starting from a prompt. The problem was, I left it all in the manuscript, until a smart editor told me nobody would care and I should get on with the swordfighting.

Recently, while working on my next book, I came up against a new scene and asked that old question, what would she do next? I took out a pad of paper. Yes, paper. Some things are more fun with pen and paper.

Rather than get myself into 160,000 words of trouble, I wrote a list of all the possible things my new heroine might do the morning after the inciting incident. Here’s a partial list:

    Get up
    Make coffee
    Have her morning devotional
    Eat breakfast
    Check e-mail, Facebook, etc.
    Read the news and find herself in it
    Start writing a business plan for a friend
    Ignore phone calls from the media
    Answer a call from someone who wants to hire her

I filled a page and a half with this kind of stuff. If I had freewritten it all, I’d still be writing — probably enough to fill a whole chapter for my editor to delete.

Instead, I picked the few things that are essential to moving the story forward, like the phone call from the potential employer. Those will get dramatized. The rest will be summarized or left out.

At first, I was embarrassed that it took me all these years to figure this out. Then I got indignant when I realized neither of my college creative writing teachers ever taught me this. If it was ever covered at a writers’ conference, I missed it.

So yes, use freewriting to unblock. But some self-editing at the developmental level can prevent book bloat.

About Kristen Stieffel

Kristen Stieffel is a writer and freelance editor specializing in speculative fiction. She's a member of the Editorial Freelancers Association, Christian Editor Connection, and American Christian Fiction Writers.

7 comments on “Just leave out the boring parts

  1. Glad to know I wasn’t the only one who did this! Now I go at it from a story-centric kind of view. If its important to the story, the overall scheme of things, then it stays.

  2. that’s what orson scott card recommends in his book, characters and viewpoint too. excellent book and excellent process to get in the habit of implementing. kudos!


  3. Your list made me laugh out loud, but I really want to know what “ignore phone calls from the media” means. Why would an accountant be getting media attention? You’ve got my attention, Lioness!

    • Good! (That’s the goal, isn’t it?)

      Her being in the news and not talking calls has to do with the inciting incident. And hey–you remembered she’s an accountant. Cool. 😀

  4. That’s good advice. I do leave in some everyday stuff, especially if the way it is done falls outside what is “normal” for us – as is often the case in sci-fi or international travel or both at once, or even interplanetary…But if ever I find myself getting bored writing, then I immediately stop writing whatever the current scene is and skip to the next interesting thing.

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