Trimming the Fat

Sometimes we get off track when writing our stories and tell so much that we lose track of the story itself. We throw in small, insignificant details to add to our character, or perhaps because we remember something from our own lives that seems to fit.

Does the reader have to know the hero’s Great Aunt Gladys used to hoard chocolate candy stars under a loose floorboard in her bedroom? That he accidentally gave his girlfriend a black eye while they were jogging? Is that incident needed for the story we are telling, or have we taken our reader off the path?

We need to be sure we are always driving the story forward, and not taking any unnecessary detours. Check your plan – maybe some of those details need to be saved for a different tale.

But trimming the fat isn’t always a good thing. A cookie recipe on a bag of artificial sweetener says, of all things, to use a small amount of sugar! The sweetener cannot replace all the sugar, because that would affect the texture and the way they brown and look. Who knew? And those fat-free diets? Dieticians say a little fat is crucial to our digestion and our organs. Our tales are much the same way.

We need those extras to make our stories seem real and insert a touch of familiarity. We just need to watch how many of them we use, and why. Remember Checkhov’s gun – “One must never place a loaded rifle on the stage if it isn’t going to go off. It’s wrong to make promises you don’t mean to keep.” If you put it in there, it must have relevance.

So don’t overload your story with small details, and make sure there’s a good reason for the ones you use. Work in Glady’s story by using the hiding place as something your hero remembers and needs as his enemies are closing in. Make the black eye the reason he was jogging alone when he discovered a crucial detail

You can find a way to keep a little of the fat and still drive the story forward.


Christine HendersonChristine Gayle Henderson has been an active member of White County Creative Writers since 1995. Her poetry, essays, and short stories have garnered awards nationwide.

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