Your Readers Don’t Need to Know Everything.
I’ve written hundreds, if not thousands of words, that will never see the light of day. Character outlines. Plot ideas. World building. Random thoughts. These are essential to creating a good story, but your reader doesn’t need to know them. You might think, “It develops character,” or “It’s necessary for world-building,” but most of the time, these details just bog down your story with extra words.
In your rough draft, you don’t need to worry about it. Just write everything that comes to mind. If a three-page scene detailing a dozen different outfits that your character changes into keeps you writing, so be it. Writing a ton of words in one session makes me feel productive, even if I end up deleting them later.
When I DO edit, my process is simple: Cross it out or use strike-through text, then ask yourself two simple questions.
“Does this change the story?”
“Does another scene rely on this one?”
These two questions will help you determine what your readers actually NEED to know. If that three-page scene draws on an earlier scene, or is foreshadowing a later plot point, keep it. If not, scrap it or shorten it. A sentence or two will serve the same purpose. If you do scrap a scene, don’t chuck it into the void. Keep a folder just for those deleted scenes. Ideas don’t always come easily, so recycle them when you can. It might make the difference between a productive writing session and the dreaded writer’s block.
Here’s a few examples:
In a Scrap It example, the same scene could be replaced with:
CharacterA rummaged through their clothes for an hour, changing slacks for leggings, a tee shirt for a blouse. Finally, they settled on faded black jeans and a shirt they bought at a band concert.
This still shows the character’s indecisiveness on what to wear, without going into detail about Every. Single. Outfit.
In a Keep It example, the scene ties into the story deeper than just what the character is wearing. You might use the scene to show your character is nervous, because of an upcoming date or a test. Maybe it’s their first day at work, and they want to impress their boss. On the darker side, maybe they are picking the best outfit to hide bruises, because they don’t want their family to know they are being bullied, or they’re getting into fights.
In each of these scenarios, the scene furthers the plot AND develops the character. I believe the difference between a good story and a great one sometimes boils down to how an author weaves in the tiny details, the snippets of world-building that make the story truly come alive.