I try to leave out the parts that readers tend to skip
I must admit to a bias here, for two reasons.
1. I’ve just had to read through a manuscript that was 80,000 words when it could have been 40,000.
2. And I’m quite a minimalist writer and reader anyway. I like the stories I write and read to just get on with it – ‘it’ being the story. Editors are always talking about pace and moving the plot forward, and judging from my freelance work for the various writers’ advice agencies it’s something a lot of newer (and not so new) writers don’t quite get. After all, everything you write is part of the story, isn’t it?
It’s to do with the ‘point’, the Big Idea of the story – which is usually something quite simple and can be summed up in a sentence: Mr Big wants to blow up the world and only James Bond can stop him; Fred’s wife has been kidnapped but the police don’t believe him and only he can save her; Fred is in love with Jane but her ex has just moved back to the area and stirred up some old feelings…
There’s always a ‘but’ – it’s the ‘but’ that makes the story interesting. And for me, there should be something in every chapter – every scene even – that is moving us towards sorting the ‘but’ issue out, or at least is related to it. That’s quite a radical approach – you’ll never achieve perfection. And sometimes you need a break, some sort of interlude. But far too many writers spend ages on scenes that are blatantly designed to show you something about a character, say, but which have little or nothing to do with the heart of the story.
Or lots of page are spent in describing every detail of a journey or a scene that’s not particularly relevant to anything – it just happens to be a place the protagonist is passing through.
So my advice is always to think in terms of ‘Does this chapter move the story forwards or is it treading water, is it a digression?’
I realise this applies more to genre fiction than literary fiction – but I still feel it does apply to most literary fiction, albeit in a subtler way.
In film and television they have got this down to a fine art. The way directors cut from one scene to another keeps the pace going – we don’t necessarily need to see the hero putting his coat on, finding his car keys, opening the car door, driving the whole way. We’d prefer to see him getting the message that he needs to be somewhere – then cut to him arriving!