Wednesday, 27 August 2008

Why stories shouldn't have necks

Baby Duck has discovered a sudden passion for drawing. Looking at one of the many masterpieces littering the house today it struck me that children’s drawings are a lot like good writing.

This is me. Clearly I need to lose weight.

Apart from that lowering thought, it’s fascinating to see what my little artist has put in his drawing and what he hasn’t. You can see I have five fingers on each hand, since the little monkey has realised what important tools these are, whereas I have no toes. There’s no detail on the body as that’s just the big lump in the middle that all the interesting bits hang off. I have short hair, which is an accurate observation. My face is the most detailed part of the drawing because of its importance. It shows ears (with holes for hearing), eyes with irises and pupils (even at five he senses that the eyes are the key to the whole person) and a big happy smile.

What he doesn’t show is a nose. After all, noses just sit there and breathe which, while essential, is kind of boring. I also have no neck – another dull piece of anatomy that merely connects two more interesting pieces.

In their early drawings, kids only put in the features that have meaning for them. All the good bits. Writing should be like this too. As I revise my novel I’ve been hitting the delete key a lot, nuking all those passages where characters are travelling from one place to another, or making breakfast, or exchanging pleasantries.

Holly Lisle put it well in her One-Pass Revision article (which is one of many useful free writing resources on her site). Writers should “give the impression of reality” without all of the boring detail. “All the sex and violence, passion and struggle. None of the teeth-brushing.”

Down with teeth-brushing, I say. My five-year-old has it right. My story doesn’t need any necks. It can jump straight from the body to the face if it wants to, because that’s where all the good stuff is happening.


  1. Good point! I call it, "Only write the interesting parts."


  2. I know you and other writers have said it many times before, Jenn, so I'm surprised at how much trouble I had with it. It's as if I forgot all the writing advice I'd ever heard when I was writing the first draft. I remember being very concerned with explaining exactly how my characters got from one place to another -- I don't know what came over me! Now I have to go back and replace all that junk with real story.

  3. Well, there's nothing as valuable as discovering a writing tip through real-life experience!

  4. They say experience is the best teacher. I just wish it wasn't so painful!