August 12, 2013

Getting Rid of the Parts Readers Skip

By Dan Walsh

We've all done it. You’re reading a novel that’s captured your interest and, before long, you find yourself skipping several paragraphs to find “where the story picks up again.” The writer writes well. That’s not the problem. The problem is they write too much. Sprinkled throughout the interesting, exciting parts you find a lot of blah-blah-blah.

Like you, my life is pretty busy. When I get to read fiction, I do it to be refreshed and entertained. If a book has too much blah-blah-blah, I put it down for good. Guess what I don’t do after that? I don’t recommend it to others and, likely, won’t buy another book from this author. Neither of these are good things.

I’ve published 8 novels in the last 4 years, most with Revell. My novels have received hundreds of customer reviews on Amazon (most are 4-5 Stars). Perhaps the most consistent comment I get (and one of the most encouraging) is: “I couldn’t put it down.”

That’s the reaction an author wants from his/her readers, no matter what genre you write in. Readers who feel this way about your book, will tell others and buy your other books. Agents and editors will offer you more contracts.

As I look back I realize that some, if not a good deal of my success, ties back to my favorite writing quote by NY Times bestselling crime author, Elmore Leonard; In your writing, try to leave out the parts readers skip.”

I latched onto this advice and have followed it ever since, not just when I write but especially when I edit my work. Here are 3 practical tips I’ve learned about getting rid of the parts readers skip before sending in your manuscript.

1. See Research as a Spice, not a Main Ingredient
Whether we write historical fiction or contemporary, research is a part of our writing life. We should be devoted to it if our stories are going to come across with relevance and credibility. But our tendency is to imagine that all these fascinating details will be as interesting to our readers as they are for us. It’s not true. Really, it’s not. Figure that 90% of your research will be blah-blah-blah to your readers. You spent all that time for the 10% you put into your book.

2. Descriptions? We Don’t Need No Stinking Descriptions
We are writing books for people who live today, not fifty years ago. We live in a video/visual generation. Most of our readers have watched hundreds if not thousands of movies and TV shows. Most of the words we write describing locations or what our characters look like are wasted. After a few lines our readers have already formed pictures in their heads and skip past everything else we say.

3. Resist Over-Explaining
At a social gathering, have you ever found yourself stuck in the gravitational pull of someone who talks too much? Don’t you hate that? Sadly, many writers suffer from the same malady. Not with our speech but with our pen.

Say what needs to be said well, but only once. Resist the urge to explain the same thing over and over again to your readers in different ways. It’s all just blah-blah-blah.

Learn to view the cutting room floor as your good friend. Think of it this way: the words lying there needed to be written so the better words could find their way. That’s the only thing that should wind up in our books, the better words.
Dan Walsh is the bestselling author of several books, including; Remembering Christmas: A Novel, The Discovery and The Reunion. He has won 3 ACFW Carol Awards. Five of his books have won RT Reviews “Top Pick” rating. Two were finalists for RT’s Inspirational Book of the Year for 2011 and 2012. Dan is a member of ACFW and Word Weavers International. He lives with his wife, Cindi, in the Daytona Beach area where he’s busy researching and writing his next novel. You can reach him at

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