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Generally speaking, I think whatever men can do women can do, and in a lot of cases, we can do it better. However, there is one area that as a whole, women are notoriously bad at doing.
The reasons vary. There are those of us who laugh before we get to the punch line. And there are those of us who don’t remember the punch line. And even those of us who don’t even understand the punch line. But even more so than any of these joke-killers, it’s this: we can’t tell a joke without unnecessary details. We absolutely can’t stand it.
For instance, let me use my married friends Sarah and Mike. Mike loves to tell jokes; and he’s good at it (he’s a guy.) And generally he’ll tell his jokes to Sarah, his much adoring wife. This is a slightly dramatized example of how such a joke telling might go.
Sarah: That sounds funny! What are you laughing at?
Mike: Hellion forwarded me a joke.
Sarah: Do tell. I could use a good laugh.
Mike: Okay. A drunk blonde Irish woman….
Sarah: Why does she have to be blonde?
Mike: What? It’s a blonde joke, darling. That’s just the way it is.
Sarah: Why can’t she be a brunette or a redhead? Or chestnut haired? That’s a blend, you know.
Mike: It’s a blonde joke.
Sarah: Fine. Please continue.
Mike: A drunk blonde Irish woman walks into a casino and says she wants to bet $10,000 on one roll of the dice….
Sarah: Why? Is she in desperate straights?
Sarah: I don’t understand her motivation. Is she trying to save her family or her house or is she just some gold-digging harpy who stole $10,000 and is trying to….
Mike: Are you going to let me tell this joke, sugar pie?
Sarah: Of course, I’m going to let you tell it. Aren’t I letting you tell it? It just doesn’t sound like a very good joke is all. A stereotypical blonde woman and no explanation where she got her $10,000….
As you can imagine, the rest of this conversation goes downhill; and the joke loses its punch. Getting obsessed in explaining every detail slows pacing and can make you feel like you’re in a very bad episode of 24. I know this. Boy, do I know this. And yet, here I am, writing my scenes like I’m writing a chick-lit version of Jack Bauer. I manage to leave out potty breaks and brushing one’s teeth, but it’s a very close thing.
My day-to-day storytelling revolves around the mundane detail. As does my friend Sarah. In fact it’s why she likes to talk with me. She says I really listen, like every detail really does matter. We’ll talk about an incident at work and end up inserting details about what we happened to be wearing that day—and yes, we did get our new shoes at DSW. So it shouldn’t be surprising that my writing is a lot like my day-to-day storytelling with my friends. Where it does have the benefit of being deep POV with my character, I get bogged down creating the sort of detail that doesn’t matter to the scene at hand. Or worse, creating entire scenes that don’t matter to the story I’m telling.
Terri was asking me where I was on my revisions on Girl on a Grecian Urn; and I explained I was at the same engagement party dinner that I was at months ago. I don’t know what to do with that scene. I couldn’t carry it, but I couldn’t go on until I’d written the scene.
But I didn’t need that particular scene. There was no reason to have that scene. It didn’t move anything forward. It didn’t impart any necessary knowledge about my heroine or hero…or even about the secondary characters that was absolutely needed at this time or that hadn’t already been related in previous or later scenes. So why couldn’t I move on?
I think it’s because I’m a horrible joke teller who tries to insert more detail than is really necessary to get the point across.
Dee, one of my superfabulous CPs, would simply say I’m an overwriter, which is what she claims she is. And I’m betting there are a lot of overwriters out there.
Are you an overwriter? And if so, how do you make yourself stay on task and keep your scenes trim and well-paced? What is your best advice for making a great scene or deciding what scenes are necessary to have? Any books you’d recommend that cover this? (I can always use a new book.) Help a fellow overwriter!