We’ve got a pretty small house. And with three young kids, it’s full of stuff. And by that I mean I’d post a picture of our living room floor, but that might give you the impression that I live in a family of hoarders.
Fortunately, my wife has taken on the task of decluttering. It’s been good so far, and is helping bring some peace of mind. But still, after every truckload of stuff that goes to out Goodwill, we still feel like more needs to be cut.
In a lot of ways, it’s kind of like revising a novel.
When you write your first draft, you’re basically collecting stuff. Just like a new sweater on sale that manages to sneak into your already overcrowded closet, a new idea or character can pop into your novel unannounced when it really has no place being there.
It’s fun to throw in everything that crosses your mind when you’re working on your first draft; that’s part of what writing a first draft is all about. But once you’re past that point and starting the first revision, a lot of that needs to go. Anything that deters the plot needs to be taken out. Kill your darlings, as the kids say.
But don’t fret about it too much. If there is an unnecessary scene or character that you absolutely love and can’t bare the thought of killing, just save it for later. Maybe it could have a story of its own.
But it’s not just ideas, characters, and plot devices that can clutter your first draft. It’s all of the unnecessary adjectives, adverbs, and other words
that are taking up space. (See what I did there?)
One of the best ways to find some of these words is to read your story out loud. When you do that, you’ll notice words that make your prose sound cluttered. There are plenty of words writers can overuse in fiction.
“That” is one of the most common.
I like to talk about how the editor assigned to my novel cut 153 “that”s out during the first revision. “That” can often be cut without changing the meaning of the sentence.
Decluttering in real life can make living easier.
Decluttering in fiction can make reading easier.
Both are worth taking the time to perfect.