I remember writing assignments in our ninth grade English class. One of the inevitable questions that would be asked was, “How long should it be?”
Mr. Dee would always answer: “Like a skirt: Long enough to cover the subject; short enough to be interesting.”
That’s still good advice.
Our books, articles, stories—whatever we are writing—shouldn’t feel “padded” with information or scenes that don’t contribute to the overall project.
If characters are introduced by name and are given space in our writing (in other words, if they are elaborated upon by giving them a name and background and some sort of importance in the story) then they should lend to the total story. Otherwise, just say that the waiter brought the food. Period. Don’t give him more than a brief one or two word description.
Granted, there should be a certain amount of description of our characters. They should also share their thoughts, feelings, and emotions. And, of course, they need to interact and DO SOMETHING. Hence, the plot unfolds with ACTION.
But, if a character doesn’t move the plot forward–doesn’t have a purpose in the overall story–they shouldn’t be given much, if any, line space.
However, it is not just superfluous characters that unnecessarily pad a story. One thing that is often overused is description (think weather, appearance, terrain, nature, and so on). As a matter of preference, some readers enjoy books with long, flowing descriptions that can take up pages, while others prefer more dialog, or action.
I recently read a book that had four consecutive pages devoted to description of the clouds–and this was NOT a book about clouds, the weather, or anything close to it. But, some people enjoy knowing every minute detail and others are content with reading “a dark storm cloud” and letting it go at that.
So, the point is, give us examples, take us on a journey, fill our hearts with joy–or suspense– but keep the story moving.
Don’t pad it with things we will want to skip over. Don’t give us hundreds of pages of nothingness in order to make the spine thick enough to showcase our names or a certain number of pages so the reader will think they’ve gotten their money’s worth.
Remember Mr. Dee’s advice and make your story long enough to cover the subject; short enough to be interesting.