Two book chapters I read this week got me thinking. Hey! I do that now and then.
The first was from a detective novel-in-progress. The detective had reached an impasse in his investigation and decided to bring the local police into his confidence. Thing was, it took several pages of romanticly leaving his sleeping lover and a lecture on city traffic density at various times of day before he got down to announcing his decision to the reader and acting on it. Talk about slowing down the action--darned thing nearly put me to sleep.
The second chapter I reviewed was from a memoir-in-progress. It was a "juicy" one with critical impact on the protagonist. Elegantly written with emphasis on the life-changing emotions involved, not one detail was committed to paper that did not have to be there to move the story along. As a reader, I had time to appreciate the significance of the episode, then the story moved on. I was neither bored nor diverted from the purpose for its inclusion.
Novels give the author a bit of wiggle room when it comes to backstory and explanation, but just as in a short story, too much extraneous information can leave even a riveted reader comatose. The second writer understood this. The first did not.
And so it goes with short stories. Say what you have to say. Say it elegantly. Don't bog the reader down with irrelevant information. He will thank you for it because, when it comes to unnecessary details, less is more.
Fred Waiss is a former high school teacher and coach who writes poetry, articles, short stories, novellas, and novels as the muse attacks; as an author he considers himself a work in progress.