You know when you are watching a movie and the camera stays a heartbeat too long on the kitchen knife and you just know that something pivotal is going to happen with that knife? In most cases, this sort of cinematic emphasis to a prop means that the prop is going to be used later on in the film – the knife will be used to cut the ropes for escape, used to stab the bad guy, etc.
And likewise, I’m sure that you’ve seen films where you’ve noticed the knife and only after, you frustratingly realize that the knife was meaningless to the story. In that case, it was a poorly directed movie, where no one paid attention to that major rule of storytelling.
If you emphasis a prop, then you need to use that prop later on.
You’ve probably heard the advice for carving a statue – take a block of marble and cut away everything that does not look like the final statue. Easy enough huh?
The same advice goes for writing.
When you write a scene, you are obligated to incorporate detail. Think of the five senses, taste, touch, smell, sight, and hearing. Obviously, you don’t need to use them all but you need to strive to “paint” a textual picture of where your characters are. Everything in your scene must exist to propel your story’s action or plot.
The problem is that many writers rely on their own interpretations of the scene. You might recall a fancy restaurant where you had a memorable dinner once as the scene for your characters to have a heated argument over a pending divorce.
Even though you remember the forks as being incredibly study (and trust me, I appreciate a heavy fork as much as the next person) it’s not necessary to mention the forks in your scene, no matter how impressive they are.
If, however, one of your characters is going to steal a knife and then stab the other and then frame someone else, you might want to mention the sharpness of the steak knife, the way the lighting glints off of the blade. Even if they use another knife, attention to this knife might be warranted in the guise of foreshadowing.
As writers we must use our personal filters for all of our writing. It’s a given and that’s what makes our work individual and unique. However, as crafters of stories, we need to recognize that even though we see our stories through our own eyes, we need to be vigilant about chipping away all of our words that don’t leave behind the finished statue.
Wendy Thomas is an award winning journalist, columnist, and blogger who believes that taking challenges in life will always lead to goodness. She is the mother of 6 funny and creative kids and it is her goal to teach them through stories and lessons.
Wendy’s current project involves writing about her family’s experiences with chickens (yes, chickens). (www.simplethrift.wordpress.com)
For the record, I’ve even “borrowed” a heavy fork that had impressed me.