The most chilling scene in the movie based on Stephen King's novel, The Shining, is when the heroine, Shelley Duvall, discovers that all the days her husband, Jack Nicholson, has spent supposedly working on his novel were in fact spent writing the phrase “all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy” over and over again. (See the clip here, below…)
It's disturbing, not because it proved Jack was possessed, but because all that time and effort produced boring, redundant prose.
Talk about scary.
For those writers participating in National Novel Writing Month, suffice it to say that following Jack's format is not the right way to achieve your 50,000 word count goal.
Instead, every single sentence you put on a page has to do the following:
1. Create an alluring image for the reader.
Think of your prose as poetry that doesn't have to rhyme. However, it still should sing. It should move the reader. It should make them laugh, or cry, or gasp.
Most of all, it should make anything it is describing– be it person, a place, or an incident — come alive to the reader.
2. Propel your story forward.
To agents, a golden manuscript is one that is a page turner. Every sentence has to make them want to read the next. Every page has to make them want to turn to the next. Every chapter should leave them wanting to get to the next one.
If it gets them excited, believe me: your agent will pitch it in a way that excites editors, too.
3. Make the reader want to turn the page. And the next page. And the next.
Throwing words on a page has its place — if in fact they are the right words. That said, after you've met your word count for the day, go back and read what you've just written. Does it flow off your tongue? Does it sound natural to your ear? Is it colorful?
Or is it just…filler?
Filler sits there, saying nothing. It takes up space. It's a placeholder until you think of some action or wordplay or dialogue that takes the story in a new direction.
In other words, it's your version of “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.”
Cut. It. Out.
Is there a better way to make your point? Yes. There is.
Find it. Write it. Make it sing.
(c) 2011 Josie Brown. All Rights Reserved
The photo above is of Jack Nicholson, in The Shining. See the scene mentioned, below.
Question of the day: Have you found yourself being redundant? If so, have you been successful in breaking that bad habit?
Happy National Novel Writing Month,