In the beginning of my writing career, my husband used to read my first drafts. And in his sweet beautiful wonderful brutally-honest way, he would say, "It's nice, but..." (here comes the brutal part) "...you're writing too hard."
“Like where?” I’d ask.
“Like here.” Then he'd point to a passage. It was always the one I’d spent hours perfecting. It was well constructed, descriptive, filled with sensory images, and flowing phrases. I loved that passage! It was one of my ‘darlings.’
Then I’d take a closer look. Invariably, it was also the passage I’d Thesaurused, over metaphored, and big-worded to death. It was me saying to the reader, “Look at me, the author. Admire how well I can write.”
Last January, Paula LaRocque (www.paulalarocque.com) spoke at our North Central/Northeast Texas SCBWI chapter meeting. One of her ‘tricks’ for good writing (among several great ones) was to change long difficult words to short simple words. Then she showed an example, a short descriptive passage. It flowed on the page. It evoked vivid images. It set the scene without being intrusive. It was beautiful. She asked who we thought wrote it. We guessed some of the most famous authors in literature. All wrong. The author was a high school student. His assignment: write a descriptive paragraph using one-syllable words. In a room full of authors, not one of us had caught his powerfully effective ‘trick.’ It was indeed like magic.
The method reminded me of motto that can be applied to more than just writing: the KISS method. “Keep It Super Simple.”
Our writing is often beautiful, even brilliant, but if it pulls the reader out of the story, if the reader stops reading and thinks, "Wow! That's great writing!", then I haven't done my job as a writer. As the teller of the story, I need to back off, let the story take center stage, and pull the reader in with writing so well done it is invisible to the reader.
It can be a tough lesson to learn. Invisible writing often means rewriting and sometimes deleting our favorite passages. It hurts (a lot), but in order to craft the best story, sometimes our beautifully written 'darlings' have to go.
But be brave, and remember, your ‘darlings’ never have to die. Not really. Mine may be cut from the story, but not from my life. They reside peacefully in a folder on my computer simply titled “Darlings.” Whenever I wish, I can open it, reread them, pat myself on my back in the privacy of my home and say, “Wow! That’s great writing!” And my readers need never know.