As You Know

Little Molly told her mother, “My stomach hurts.”

“That’s because you haven’t eaten lunch,” Mama replied.  “Your stomach is empty, and you’d feel better if you had something in it.”

That afternoon Daddy come home early from work, and during dinner remarked how he had been plagued all day by a headache.

“That’s because it’s empty,” said Molly.  “You’d feel better if you had something in it.”

Perhaps you’ve heard of the info dump.  Sometimes, while penning a story, the writer needs to sort of bring the reader up to speed.  It can be tempting to unload a chunk of the backstory in your head onto the page, but that can make the tale start to stagger.

Dialogue is one good way to circumvent this challenge, but the writer still needs to beware.  It doesn’t ring true when a couple of characters inform each other of details they already have knowledge of:

Little Molly told her mother, “My stomach hurts.”

“Well, as you know, Molly,” said Mama, “I haven’t been able to serve lunch yet because I’m preparing for our trip across the country.  That won’t be easy since we’re going to haul three goats, two donkeys, and a truckload of chickens so Grandpa can replace his livestock that were abducted by aliens.”

There are better ways to explain why this family is preparing for a zany adventure involving farm animals and extraterrestrials.  They could discuss plans during dinner.  They might explain their motive to a helpful (?) stranger at a rest stop.  Or the story can simply unfold, dropping nuggets of information like, well, droppings scattered along the highway (What else would you expect with three goats, two donkeys, and a whole heap of chickens?).

But you’re probably already familiar with how to avoid expository dialogue, so I’ll leave the matter here.  After all, my head is starting to hurt….

Fun with Frugality

For years I’ve always gone grocery shopping according to what’s on sale.  Back when we’d been married only a few years and had small children, money was tight.  When something particularly nice would come on sale, I’d buy it and stick it in the freezer for a special occasion.

Inevitably something major would break down that was expensive to repair or replace.  That usually meant I’d have to put off grocery shopping until next payday, so we’d subsist on the items we’d stocked up on.  Thus the “special occasion” wound up being a financial crisis, and I’d pull out those nice cuts of meat to cook for our meals.

Hubby noticed this trend and joked, “Well, we’re broke again … we’re gonna have to start eating steak and lobster.”

Concise writing is the steak and lobster of the reading experience.  Perhaps because writing is ten percent inspiration and ninety percent perspiration, we can be guilty of sounding like we’re turning in a freshman assignment, and focused more on reaching the specified word count:

The question as to whether geese make good lawn mowers or not is a subject that many people haven’t considered.  Besides the fact that geese do keep the grass trimmed to a manageable length, they can also be used for fertilization purposes.  Just be aware that this is the reason why walking where they’ve mowed should be done in a careful manner.

One way to rewrite this more concisely is:

Many people haven’t considered whether or not geese make good lawn mowers.  Besides geese keeping grass trimmed to a manageable length, they also fertilize it.  Just be aware of walking carefully where they’ve mowed.

Frugality renders a passage more vigorous when there aren’t a bunch of surplus words weighing it down.  We don’t need to say this is the reason why or that is the subject we’re discussing.  The reader understands that already and wants to dig into the story.

Remember, you’d rather have steak and lobster than have to step around all that fertilizer….