When I first started writing stories I would have characters and one adventure and event after another. The characters were always moving along from one task to the next. But I realized, that even with a notebook full of events, I didn’t really have a story. What I had was busy characters that weren’t really getting anywhere.
This is a common mistake among beginning writers, and even experienced ones have to cut out busy scenes in the editing process. But it’s an especially common mistake among everyone in our day to day lives. Sometimes we’re busy all day but don’t get anything done. Sometimes we’re getting lots of good things done, but leave out the most important things.
There will always be some editing when the story has been completed, but there is some editing we can do in the process. We can cut out the fluff when we see it, so that we don’t find that our 50,000 word story is actually an over-stuffed 10,000 word story.
The way I eliminate fluff is I look for the purpose of every event. In a story, every scene or event should do one or more of three things: Advance the plot, reveal character, and provide comic relief. There is a reason that characters in stories never go to the bathroom. There are always exceptions, but if it isn’t relevant to the character or story, then leave it out.
Obviously, if you need to go to the bathroom, you should go. But the same principle can be applied to our lives. There should always be a purpose in what we do, otherwise it’s fluff. For me, advancing the plot would be things that we have to do to survive such as working, eating, laundry, etc. In this case it would be the boring stuff that you’d cut out of a story, but it’s what makes your life continue on.
Revealing character is the stuff that is personal to you. This includes personal goals and hobbies as well as what you’re learning and how you’re developing yourself. So for me, this includes writing. Anything that is bettering yourself and that makes you who you are.
Comic relief is relaxing and unwinding; when we take the time to watch a movie or play a game on our electronic device. This can be a sketchy area because it can get to be too much. We don’t want to have a joke book, we want a real story, so we can’t spend too much time with this purpose unless it always fills a purpose of one of the other two.
In a story there needs to be breaks between the action. Characters (and the readers) need time to recoup and have the internal processing of what is going on and what the next step is. The same works for us. We have to have time to relax and unwind, hence the necessity for the comic relief. But being able to make those times as productive as a story, we can add another purpose to our activity.
The best scenes in stories are when we are learning about a character, laughing, and seeing the story progress. When we can edit our lives in such a way to make all the moments count than we can be as productive as a story. We’ll get right to the point and ready for the next adventure. Responsibility, personal development, and relaxing can be combined into activities in our lives if we learn to edit and evaluate what is fluff that needs to be cut out. Just the same as moving the plot, revealing character, and comic relief make a good story without extra stuffing.