6 Things to Remove from Your Story

December 31, 2016


Your job as an author is to remove yourself from the story completely. But you do this by progressively removing a number of other things. Here are some key steps to doing that, as recommended by someone from the motion picture industry:


1. Remove answers. Know what you want to say and ask the question at the beginning for which your story will be the answer. 


2. Remove sensory inhibitions. Feel, smell, hear, taste, apart from just seeing. Have your characters feel the weight of an object; smell a smell from childhood, potentially triggering a memory; hear a distant train whistle; taste a sip of wine. Senses are so crucial because they put readers into moments. A ‘moment’ could be defined as a passage of text into which the reader is ‘plugged’ while maintaining trust in the writer.


3. Remove uncertainties about direction, Know your ending, so that you can concentrate on what’s next. Each scene leads into the next scene - it can foreshadow the ending, echoing what’s coming, but needs to be focused on in its own right. The reader shouldn’t feel the need to refer to you for information about what is going on, it should be going on and sweeping the reader with it.


4. Remove strengths. Create characters out of weaknesses, not qualities. Readers don’t want perfect heroes for the most part, they want heroes who are struggling within: think of Frodo’s constant battle with the Ring, of Luke Skywalker’s doubts about his father, of Harry Potter’s inner questioning. What makes heroes heroes is that they defeat their inner demons as well as their outer ones - or not, depending on what sort of story you are writing. The better you build your characters, the less attention will be on you as an author.


5. Remove pointlessness. Every chapter should move the plot along, every scene should move the chapter along, every sentence should move the scene along, every word should move the sentence along. Edit out anything that doesn’t do these things. That doesn’t necessarily include comic moments or ‘asides’, as long as each of those things is contributing to our experience as readers and heading in the same direction.


6. Remove emotional words. Using words as a way of specifically telling readers what to feel is like using a movie soundtrack to tell audiences what to feel: used properly, it can add quality; overused, it is an attempt to compensate for something missing in the characters and plot. ‘She blushed, embarrassingly, her poor wounded heart throbbing with self-pity’ is forcing too much information at the reader, not permitting the reader to feel part of what is happening. If a character has been constructed properly, ‘She blushed’ would probably be enough.


By removing these things in the course of storytelling, you will create a more vivid and real story.


For much, much more about constructing successful stories, read How Stories Really Work.


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