Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Humans 10, Horses 0

beating a dead horse--pursuing a conversation, line of inquiry, or agenda that has been overcome by events; a character endlessly blaming himself or others for the consequences of some previous act or decision; taking a had-I-but-known trope to an even greater extreme of recrimination; not merely crying but sobbing over spilled milk.

The worst example of animal abuse or beating dead horses comes when a character flails self on the breast, bemoaning some missed opportunity or some previous seduction that seemed like a good idea at the time. Even the rule of three--three repetitions--can be one or two kicks too many. Try a scene in which a character recalls such a time. Or try a scene in which another character chastises the beater of horses of record with "You're not still blaming yourself for that, are you?"

Cutting material is an art of its very own, and difficult to learn, but one good place to start is with the kicked horse. Another way to approach this matter is to ask during the revision period how much the reader needs to be reminded. Remember as well the number of persons who called you out for having Denise blink her green eyes on page 41 when those same eyes were a reassuring coffee brown on page 28. Readers do note anomalies, even if they are deliberate ones set into place by such authors as Mario Vargas Llosa in his romp, Aunt Julia and the Script Writer.

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