Keeping it simple
You know that feeling when you first start a book? It’s like my mind is a kitten surrounded by tempting balls of yarn. It wants to pounce on EVERYTHING at once and succeeds mostly in falling over a lot. Adorable, but not that effective.
Ideas, characters, settings, sub plots – I love them ALL and I want them ALL in the first paragraph because I’m so excited (!!!) by the fabulous world I’ve created. Unfortunately, that means I have written quite a few openings that sucked. Fortunately, I have discovered my best friend the delete key, which means my finished books aren’t quite the unruly beasts promised by my first few drafts.
It’s all too easy to load up our openings—and often our entire novels—with an embarrassment of riches. It’s true that certain genres, like epic fantasy, usually have lots of subplots and characters, but the best examples always firmly establish the world and conflict before branching off into weaving threads of events. Many other genres, including romance, prefer only a few main story threads. Either way, good craftsmanship guarantees the reader can always follow the action without drowning in clutter. No one likes a story that requires a spreadsheet and a geomancer to make sense of it.
So, my lesson learned? I don’t need to add one idea more than what’s absolutely necessary—my stories will magically gather complications all on their own. I have to start with the bare bones if I want to end with a coherent book. Restraint and simplicity are perhaps the last lessons one masters, and for me they have been the hardest. I have a hard drive full of mangled first drafts to prove it.
Long ago, I received an excellent piece of advice. “A woman of style will always remove one piece of jewelry before leaving her dressing table and another before leaving her front door.” While I will be the first to admit that sounds a bit patronizing, there’s wisdom in it when it refers to book structure. Sometimes simplicity is a good friend.