We all want to write books that force the reader to stay up nights and read that next chapter.
The problem is how do we do that? How do we make a book so compelling that people will just want to devour it?
Many craft books on writing say to add this, or that, to make a better book. In my opinion, the opposite is sometimes true. We must leave out elements that stop the reader from turning pages.
Some well-known authors seem to agree with me.
Elmore Leonard said: “Try to leave out all the parts readers skip.”
Stephen king wrote “A successful book is not made of what is in it, but of what is left out of it.”
Stephen King definitely knows what to leave out. He only gives readers the grade A material in his novels.
In his book ‘On Writing,’ King said, “This is a short book because most books about writing are filled with…” (I’ll leave the last word to your imagination.)
Ask yourself what would create more impact on a business card–Walter Wingly, juggler, writer, computer programmer, dog walker, TV repairman, runner, accountant or just, Walter Wingly, Author.
You can see that when you include only the most important elements, it creates more impact.
I learned this as a joke writer. The smaller the amount of words I wrote as a punch line, the better the joke was received.
Here are some tips on what to leave out of your novel.
1) Leave Out What Doesn’t Seem Real
A novel is supposed to look like the tale presented actually happened. Every little detail that doesn’t appear authentic takes the reader out of the story. So if you describe a place and something in that description doesn’t seem right, take it out. If the dialogue between a lawyer and his ex-con client isn’t believable, get rid of it.
2) Leave Out the Boring
In most books, there are some boring sections or at least parts that are less interesting than others. You might want to ask yourself questions about this material. For example, does it develop the story or the characters? Is it intriguing in some fashion? If you leave this material out would it affect the story in an important way? If the answers to these questions are no, then hit that delete button.
3) Leave Out the Unclear
Everything you write should be crystal clear to the reader. If it’s fuzzy in any way, and the reader has to struggle to figure out what you mean, she may well lose interest. It’s okay, of course, to create suspense by not explaining everything, but this material must still be clear. I’ve noticed that certain authors try to make scenes more suspenseful and mysterious by being vague. However, sometimes, this makes it too difficult to figure out what is going on. That leads to the reader putting the book aside.
4) Leave out Words
I don’t mean to write in an illiterate fashion. What I do mean is use the shortest sentences necessary to get your point across. Don’t use four words when one will do.
For example, you might write, ‘Shelly loved computers as much as she loved the mint chocolate-chip ice cream she ate at Mr. Hillary’s store on the corner.’ To shorten it, you might write, ‘Shelly loved ice cream.’ This doesn’t mean you can’t use description, it just means you should make each word count.
5) Leave Out Back-story
Now, of course you can’t entirely leave out back-story. All stories need to talk about past events at some point. But you should leave most of it out, at least until page forty. We want the reader to be enthralled by the forward action of your tale for as long as possible. By page forty, the reader should be hooked enough by your novel and main character that she desperately wants to know the back story. So, yes, leave it back-story, but just until page forty or so.
6) Leave Out your Opening
You want to start your novel with something that grabs your reader. You want her to ask, ‘what’s happening here?’ or ‘What will happen next?’
So if your opening lines aren’t doing the job, consider leaving them out. You’ll often notice that the next lines in your story are a much more intriguing way to begin.
As well, leaving out your entire first chapter and beginning with your second might be a good way to go. Often writers throw too much information into the first chapter. Starting with your second may help your novel begin in a much more dynamic manner.
7) Leave Out What Doesn’t Move the Story Forward
Your novel should always be moving forward in some way. This could involve the reader learning new information about a character or a plot-line that’s taking the story in a different direction. If you sense that there is a lack of movement in a certain section of your book, then delete that section. I would rather read a book where there are too many things happening rather than too little.
8) Leave Out the End of the Chapter
By this I mean the end of the chapter must create suspense for the next one. You might end with a scene where a gun goes off. The reader then hungers to know who was hit and will read on to the next chapter. There, we might learn that it’s the protagonist’s best friend who got shot. The ending of one chapter could be about a character heading into a cemetery where he suspects that there’s a man with a gun hiding out. We read the next chapter to find out what happens when your character confronts that man.
9) Leave Out Information
We, of course, want to delete any material that doesn’t affect the characters or plot in some way. But we also want to leave out information that we can reveal later on in the novel for impact. For example, if the protagonist in your story enters a cave where there’s a demon, the reader might be wondering, ‘Will the protagonist live in his fight with this creature.’
The author would answer the reader’s question by showing the protagonist standing in victory, and the demon on the ground.
However, we have left out the information that the demon’s spirit is now in the protagonist’s body and the protagonist’s spirit is now in the demon’s body on the ground.
Later on in the book we reveal these details. This is the kind of new information that keeps the reader turning pages. Later, some character will figure out how to fix the situation with the protagonist (We hope!)
10) Leave Out What Doesn’t Catch YOUR Interest
A book is all about grabbing a reader’s interest and keeping it. So when you read your story, see if it catches your interest. Notice if there’s a point at which even a slight shift occurs in how you feel about the material. Chances are if you experienced that shift then your reader will too.
I hope these tips help give you an idea of what to leave out of your novel. If you’d like to learn more about giving a novel impact, then join me for my workshop: