Lesson Four – Cut The Crap
Chapter two of Fifty Shades of Grey opens with this sentence.
My heart is pounding.
So far so good.
Here is the second sentence.
The elevator arrives on the first floor, and I scramble out as soon as the doors slide open, stumbling once, but fortunately not sprawling on to the immaculate sandstone floor.
Oh dear. Well, at least the heroine matches the prose – sprawling and graceless.
So, what happens in chapter two?
Well, first things first Bel…Ana has a little think about what just happened in the previous chapter – just in case you didn’t read the previous chapter. The first chapter.
No man has ever affected me the way Christian Grey has, and I cannot fathom why.
Due to bad writing you behave as if you have spent all twenty-one years of your life in a Skinner Box. Next question.
As I leave the city limits behind, I begin to feel foolish and embarrassed as I replay the interview in my mind. Surely I’m overreacting to something that’s imaginary. Okay, so he’s very attractive, confident, commanding, at ease with…
Yeah, okay. Shut the fuck up. The last thing we need is another paragraph recapping what just happened two pages ago. She interviewed a corporate zombie and for some reason she got all fizzy in the knicker region and didn’t understand why. We get it.
This is why every good creative writing class will tell you to slice and dice your work. Be ruthless. Are you reinterating the same point over and over? Could you condense two scenes into one? Cut, cut and cut some more.
Four Irrelevant Things You Might Want To Cut
1. Woke up this morning, got yourself a gun.
Your main character wakes up in the morning. Is it important that we know they require sleep? Do we need to know they have a digital display alarm clock, or that they favour cinnamon dental floss over mint? Unless your main character wakes up to discover that he has turned into a massive fucking cockroach then please leave the formal levees to French kings named Louis.
2. Oi, Teacher, leave those kids alone.
The scene in which your main character goes to class and is bored. If your main character is a student – a high schooler, university, whatever – then we’re going to take it for granted that they’ve attended boring classes at some point. We’ve all been there. We’ve all suffered through Enclosure Acts and oxbow lakes. Unless something important to the plot happens in the class, cut it out.
3. Working nine to five, what a way to make a living
The long establishing scene at work. Show don’t tell is good, as a rule, but sometimes you can get a little overzealous. Sometimes it is better to type ‘Henry was an accountant at a large firm in the city’ than write an exhaustive account of Henry’s day, from the train from Wandsworth and boarding the District Line at Victoria and so on…The only reason we would really need to know anything about Henry’s journey to work would be if an eldritch abomination oozed onto the train at Clapham Junction and followed an increasingly anxious Henry all the way to Bank and beyond. Or something like that. You get the picture.
4. Papa don’t preach
The long conversation with Mum/Dad. Fourth verse, same as the first. Unless Mum is phoning to say that Dad is dead or a werewolf or something that is going to have consequences for your story, then we really don’t need to know that your character has parents. Seriously. It’s okay. We can work that out for ourselves. And while we might not be able to work out that the heroine’s childhood nickname was Pumpkin and that her favourite teddy bear was named Mr. Bongles, we can work out for ourselves exactly how many fucks we give about these golden nuggets of information. Guess how many? Go on – have a guess.
So, Ana arrives home, which she shares with Kate – which we already know – and which doesn’t cost her much rent, which we don’t really care about. It’s not worth mentioning money in fiction unless there’s a lot of it or too little of it, at which point it becomes a motivating force.
I know Kate is going to want a blow-by-blow account…
I’m saying nothing.
Seriously, though? Kate is going to get what she wants. Ana recaps her interview and consequent knicker-fizziness for the third time this chapter. I feel like I’m watching one of those Discovery Channel documentaries where they stop every five minutes to tell you what happened in the previous five minutes. HITLER! SHARKS! UFOS! AAH!
Finally we switch scenes to one that isn’t about Ana thinking about Christian’s mysterious effect on her down-there parts and it’s Number Three on our list of Boring Shit That Will Bore The Shit Out Of Your Readers.
Yes, Ana goes to work! At a hardware store! (This seems strangely familiar, doesn’t it?)
I’ve worked at Clayton’s since I started at WSU. [Don’t care.] It’s the largest independent hardware store in the Portland area, [Really don’t care] and over the four years I’ve worked here, I’ve come to know a little bit about everything we sell – although ironically I’m crap at any DIY. I leave all that to my Dad. [Oh, you have a father – how unusual!] I’m much more of a curl-up-with-a-book-in-comfy-chair-by-the-fire kind of girl.
Huh. That’s a hell of a lot of hyphens to admit that you’re a lazy, self-indulgent parasite.
Mrs. Clayton is pleased to see me.
“Ana! I thought you weren’t going to make it today.”
“My appointment didn’t take as long as I thought. I can do a couple of hours.”
“I’m real pleased to see you.”
Excuse me for a moment. I’m just going to go outside and scream for half an hour.
Every single line in this exchange is either redundant or repetition. Then the paragraph ends, and we go yo-yoing merrily back to Ana and Kate’s apartment for yet another post mortem on the fucking interview.
We talk no more of Christian Grey that evening, much to my relief.
Your relief? How the fuck do you think I feel?
Once we’ve eaten, I’m able to sit at the dining table with Kate and, while she works on her article, I work on my essay on Tess of the D’Urbervilles. Damn, but that woman was in the wrong place at the wrong time in the wrong century.
Huh? What? Time and place had nothing to do with it. Even if you brought the book bang up to date Tess would still be a rape victim surrounded by rapists and dickholes.
I should warn Thomas Hardy fans of a delicate disposition that these cack-handed allusions are set to continue. And they’re going to get worse. Much worse. Sorry about that.
I curl up in my white iron bed, wrapping my mother’s quilt around me, close my eyes, and I’m instantly asleep.
Holy fucking shit! Ana requires sleep!
I call my Mom in Georgia to check on her…
Ana has a mother! Mind= blown! Next you’ll be telling me she’s a mammal! Eyes down for Crashing Bore Bingo – if she falls asleep in class we’ve got a full house.
Incidentally, Mom has a candle making business and no attention span and apparently goes through husbands like shit through a goose. And for some reason I’m experiencing serious déjà vu. Weird.
Friday rolls around and we meet Bella’s Ana’s native American Mexican friend Jacob Black Jose Rodriguez.
Jose and I are good friends, but I know deep down he’d like to be more. He’s cute and funny but he’s not for me.
Is it me or is it Twilight in here?
Sometimes I wonder if there’s something wrong with me.
Yes. Yes there is.
Perhaps I’ve spent too long in the company of my literary romantic heroes, and consequently my ideals and expectations are far too high.
If Alec D’Urberville and Angel Clare are your ‘literary romantic heroes’ then that goes a long way to explaining what the fuck is wrong with you. High expectations? If the bar were any lower than Angel and Alec you’d have to drill for it. One is a pretentious, hypocritical shitlord and the other is a straight-up fucking rapist.
I just haven’t met anyone who…well, whom I’m attracted to, even though part of me longs for those trembling knees, heart-in-my-mouth, butterflies-in-my-belly, sleepless nights.
Aww. You know it’s true love when you break out in cliches.
And hives. (Or maybe that’s just me.)
Next time – Further Redundancy at the Hardware Store. Ana is definitely not a neurosurgeon, Christian is probably a serial killer and Christian is like, hot…like fudge. Or something…like totally.