I was recently talking with an author friend (Meg Gardiner) about a book I recently read, a self-published book that screamed for a proper edit. When asked about the primary problem, I said it was “visual prose.”
Too often, writers envision what they are writing, sort of like running a movie in their minds, and then write what they see. This is what I term “vision prose.” Vision prose will kill a good story.
Here’s an example (created just for this blog, not quoting anyone else’s writing): Todd pushed his chair back, got up from the chair, and grabbed his glass from the table. He looked at Nyla with hatred and then turned and walked to the door. Realizing he still had the glass in his hand, he put it on the shelf, took hold of the doorknob, and walked through the door without a backward glance.
I’m not kidding. This is the kind of writing I sometimes have to edit, and, more often, find in published works.
How would I fix it? First, I’d ask the question: what’s the main point of the scene? Answer: Todd leaves in anger or disgust. We don’t care about the glass. If you put the glass in the scene, and show us Todd placing it on the shelf, it had better figure later in the story. Otherwise, leave it out.
We also don’t need to see him push his chair back before rising from the table, unless he does it slowly, with great deliberation, his anger building with each backward inch. If there isn’t some specific meaning to his pushing back the chair, don’t write it.
…. and there’s so much more, but I’ll leave it alone after I ask: How did he manage to walk through the door? Is he only protoplasm?
My suggested edit: Todd scraped his chair backwards, glaring at Nyla, and left without a backward glance.
Okay, so I could probably improve even that, but you get the gist. We don’t need a blow-by-blow description of each of his actions. Give us the meat and leave the fixin’s out.
Next: Describing a Character: Why and How?