It's scary to go by your gut when you hardly have experience writing and consider yourself a rookie and tend to look up to the masters and doubt your every decision and agonize, agonize, agonize. You really start to bloom when you stop agonizing, and you don't stop agonizing until you learn to trust your gut. And that is very hard. How can you trust it when there are all these other writers who know better? You think they know better because they've been writing longer than you, they wrote more books than you, better books than you, and so on. You can drive yourself crazy thinking these thoughts.
I'm certainly nowhere near trusting my gut fully yet, but it comes in waves and it happens more often. The latest test of that trust is happening right now in the shape of me hacking and slashing and cutting and ripping at the second draft of TUBE whilst making it into Draft 3, which is resulting in prose that is so lean and minimal and bony that it makes me scared, and yet somewhere in the darkest farthest corners of my gut I feel that what I'm doing is right.
I have noticed that by giving away less of the story I make my reader fill in the details and rejoice at being part of the guessing game. That reader is me, as I'm in the one reading the draft as I write it, but that reader is happy.
The things I'm cutting are so many I won't be able to put them all in here for you, but I'll put in a few, those that made the biggest impression on me by their absence.
1. Dialog tags.
This one is huge. I think I got rid of almost all of them, with hardly a "she said" or "he said" once in a while, and once in a blue moon "she babbled" or "he shouted." At the beginning I used to elaborate, like, "she extrapolated incessantly" or "he whispered slowly" or whatever. And I would stick the damn things after almost every dialogue line! The two things that cured me of that was listening to The Badlings on audio as the audiobook is being produced (so many tags could be cut!) and reading Cormac McCarthy. I felt like I wanted to do it, but I had to see someone else do it to believe I COULD do it. It makes the dialogue flow so much better.
There is this tendency to explain, we all have it. Curiously, mine is really strong in me due to my less-than-pretty childhood where I learned that I was always wrong and had to always apologize and explain myself. I have since almost kicked the habit. Almost. Not quite. It crops up in my writing. It's driven by my fear that people won't understand my story, that I have to explain to to them why and how and what for. Well, I don't. The beauty of a good story is that nothing is explained and yet you understand everything. So I went ahead and slashed away all those tiny backstories that were circling up in every chapter. Ah, I can breathe now. And you GET it without me explaining it.
3. Character descriptions.
For the longest time I stuck to this idea that I have to be clear from the very moment I introduce a character on their appearance and age and all that jazz. Nope, I don't. I could just give a funny name and you'd know that something about that character was funny, or I could give just one detail, like a red purse or a rancid smell or a sweaty shirt or a manner of speech, and you will remember it better than me describing the person to you to death. Also, it bogs down the story.
4. Thoughts and feelings.
The characters think and feel, of course, and I've been overindulging in both, spelling out their thoughts in long paragraphs, and naming their feelings. By doing so I was killing the fun for the reader to guess and to get it and to understand. Of course, there are books where thoughts are important, and there are books when zeroing in on a particular feeling, like Fat Charlie's constant embarrassment (I'm reading Neil Gaiman's Anansi Boys) that gives you a better picture of the character. Not in mine. At least, not in TUBE. I have to strip it out to focus on what's important for the story, and since I want it to scare you, telling you "she was numb with horror" won't make you scared. It's stronger to show, to tell you that "she went pale" or that "she stopped breathing." Simple. I like it much better.
5. Fancy words.
Since English is not my first language, I used to obsess over putting as many fancy words in my books as I could. I was proud of myself. I learned how to use them! Only they annoyed readers. And with time I came to see how it annoyed me in books I have read where such words were superfluous and clearly gave the writer the pleasure to flaunt their extensive vocabulary knowledge in your face. So I got rid of all of them. When my characters "look," they just "look." They hardly ever "stare" (I used to use this one a lot) or "gawk" or "throw glances" or "squint" or "narrow eyes" or whatever. They also "walk" and "run" and "stop." And sometimes they "leap" and "canter" and "stagger," but it's rare. Hemingway liberated me of this need. I felt it in my gut but I was afraid to do it until I saw him do it and I loved it.
These are the main ones. There are also shorter paragraphs and shorter chapters and shorter dialogue lines (I'm finally okay with writing one-word responses) and leaner cleaner transitions without needless fanfare and no more fear of using "was" too often, and using "and" too often, and writing long run-on sentences, and writing very short ones. In fact, I don't remember being this free with my writing as I am with the third draft of TUBE. Interesting. So maybe this 2-month break between drafts did me good? I whined and moaned about it, and look, it's making me write a better book.