Writing Tip: Unnecessary details

Identifying unnecessary details is especially difficult for new writers. How do you separate the telling details that add realism and depth from those that distract the reader and slow the narrative?

There is no easy call. All you can do is examine descriptive phrases and ask yourself, “Does it matter?” For example, if a woman is reluctantly delving into a box of memorabilia, does it matter whether she sits down on the edge of a queen size bed? Whether she is sitting down on the beige carpet as she opens the box? Both instances are wordy and weak. They should be tightened up and included only if they contribute to the narrative.

Sometimes it’s a matter of placement: e.g., telling us a character is dressed in baggy jeans and a long-sleeved T-shirt with the logo “Too God to be True,” and had hot chocolate made with whole milk and a slice of cold cheese pizza for breakfast could be great character notes. But if these details are tagged on to sentences about resenting a change in routine,  or a parent’s death, they feel distracting and irrelevant.

Bottom line: put in details that matter.


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