Every day at six o’clock a meek beep emanates from my son’s room for about ten seconds. It used to happen at five o’clock until we sprung forward. Five or six, doesn’t matter. I hear it. I accept it. I ignore it, lock, stock and buzzer.
It means nothing.
And therein lies the beauty of real life! Some things are meaningless. But in fiction – even and most especially realistic fiction like women’s fiction – every bit must have meaning — and not just to the author!
Exhausting! I know.
Even though women’s fiction is meant to mimic real people, emotions, situations and life – in real life there’s a lot of downtime and a lot of things that simply aren’t important. There are even people who don’t add value to our lives. There are things going on that do not impact our personal stories.
In women’s fiction – everything matters.
If it’s in there, it should be important or your reader will probably wonder why you’re wasting his or her time with it. Does everything need to be evident immediately? No, but stuff needs to make sense and be clear eventually, unlike the beep in my house which will never make sense. Not now or eventually.
I also purport that you can’t ignore anything in women’s fiction – but I do not mean your characters can’t ignore with intention. They can. We cannot. Writers cannot (should not) ignore anything within our pages. Each action should have a reaction, each stretch of dialogue should have a purpose, each character should have a raison d’être. If you are able to ignore something in your writing – how do you think someone else will react to it? (You know, someone who didn’t give birth to you or owes you money.)
I realized that my many-times-already revised novel had meaningless parts. Here’s what I asked myself as my index finger circled over the delete key:
If I remove [this section] will the story still make sense? (Hint: if the answer is yes, it’s time to cut and paste that section into an outtakes doc.) I then read the section without the part in question. It was hard to step away and discern that my hard earned words weren’t needed but a better story is the result. Sometimes having those extra words is the only way I can get to the heart of the matter, so I never consider extra parts as having been foolish or a waste of time.
Does this dialogue lead anywhere? (Hint: if the dialogue only offers information and does not present a problem, solve a problem or better yet, offer a combo of both, it’s time to cut and past that dialogue into an outtakes doc.) I don’t know if I made this up but I call dialogue that purely gives info as “having tea.” Now, I don’t drink tea (I’m a coffee gal) but I envision ladies drinking tea, pinkies up, sharing the news and gossip of the day. Bo-ring. Not that you can’t impart information in a string of dialogue, but in my opinion it has to be more than that.
Is this character unique? (Hint: if the character in question is doing the same thing as another character, you might be able to do a little character melding.) By unique I don’t mean wears fancy hats — I mean unique to the situation and story. I wrote a short story where the main character had two sisters, until a writer-friend pointed out the sisters were exactly the same. If my mc was going to have two, they should be different. My choice was initially to give the mc one sister. With rewrites she ended up with no sisters, but it taught me a lesson. Every character must have a unique role within the story.
I know that as we write women’s fiction, everything has meaning to us. And that’s ok. It’s hard to admit that might not be the case for an agent or editor or reader. We’re attached to our words and our characters. They’re real to us (shh! I won’t tell anyone) and sometimes we can’t imagine that something about them or their story is unnecessary.
The way I see it, as authors, we have two options: delete it or make it matter.
Any examples of either (or both) you’d like to share as I head off to delete a circle of chatting cousins from my first chapter? Who invited them anyway? (Oh crud, that was me, wasn’t it?)