Reducing for story content - how to shave off the "fluff" and get to the meat of the story
Sometimes when you are writing, particularly when it is something that is close to you such as a personal memory or anecdote, it is easy to get sidetracked and get off topic. While you may enjoy this meandering stroll down Memory Lane, you risk leaving your readers scratching their heads.
It is important when you are writing to pull in your focus and keep your story on topic so that it makes sense to your reader and you can hold the connection. The unnecessary part of a story is often referred to as "fluff" in the literary world. Fluff can be the meandering storyline that doesn't remain on topic, it can be unnecessary or extensive explanations, or it can be those extra words that you stuff into your story to make it longer.
This is where it helps to create an outline before you put pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard, whichever is the case). Make sure you stay on topic and don't confuse your reader with lengthy stories that do not really pertain to your main story.
A good rule of thumb is if it is more than approximately three or four lines, either shorten it or write a separate story about it. This can vary, though, depending on the length of your story. While this limit is good if your story is shorter, say, a page (about 500 typed words); if your story is longer you may be able to get away with a paragraph. The key is to make sure that what you are telling is absolutely vital to the reader's understanding of the story. If not, keep it out, and write a separate story about it.
Of course, when you are writing your memoirs, you will inevitably have to explain or describe something, be it your childhood home, your grandfather's weathered, strong but gentle hands, or how you used to get up at the crack of dawn to milk cows when you were young. You may describe the crisp, winter air biting at your fingers and toes as you walked to school or how your mother always made sure that you arrived home from school each day to the aroma of fresh baked gingerbread or cookies.
The thing to remember is that “less is more”. If you spend an entire paragraph describing the smell of the gingerbread, you will lose your reader or they will begin skipping over sections of your story. They may cause them to miss integral parts of your tale. Keep it brief and use highly descriptive words to let your writing come alive.
If your story seems to fall short of the length that you had in mind you may have a tendency to "stuff with fluff." This turns your filet mignon of a story into a fast food cheeseburger of one. Fluff and fillers take away from the impact of your story. If you find that your story falls short, there are a couple of things that you can do:
• Rethink your standards. Does your story HAVE to be that length? Can you get away with a story that is shorter? Or,
• Combine several stories. Take two or three shorter stories and put them together to create one longer story.
Fluff can cause you to lose your reader. When you don't "stuff with fluff" your readers will be much happier, they will be able to read it easier and they will be more likely to stick with you, reading until the very end. Lose the fluff, keep the good stuff.