Seven Writing Sins: Gluttony

My nephews were here for a day.  In anticipation of their healthy appetites (and the fact that I miss them like crazy), I bought a few more snackies than I typically purchase for my kids.  Needless to say, soda cans, pudding cups and ice cream wrappers filled the trash can.  To the point of overflowing.

Sometimes our manuscripts overflow as well.

We have so many good dialogue snippets, so many colorful characters and so many unique and heartfelt scenes that we try to pack them all into one novel.  Like my garbage can, however, a manuscript can only take so much and things soon spill out and make a mess on the floor.


  • Just because it looks yummy doesn’t mean we have to eat write it.  Case in point: DH and I saw Grown Ups this weekend.  While the first fifteen minutes were funny, minutes twenty through the end of the movie were hard to swallow.  Oh sure, there were some great one liners, but in the end, it was too much.  When everything is funny, nothing is funny.


And by that, I don’t mean pile the trash in the can like a Jenga game.  I mean balance in the true sense.  Moderation, if you will.

  1. Save some good stuff for later.  Open a file for dialogue and another for setting.  Keep one for characters and scenes so you can easily cut and paste those great ideas to save for a future manuscript.  If necessary, save them for a planned sequel.
  2. Combine characters, making one strong and unique character from more than one bit player.  This is particularly helpful in cutting down on character confusion.  The fewer people involved in a novel, the less readers have to remember and the more they can focus on the MC and the story.
  3. Dialogue is tricky at best.  What tickles our funny bones when we hear it in the bar, may not elicit the same reaction on paper.  Dialogue should reveal character, not act as a medium for writers to state their views or tell funny jokes.  Make every word count.
  4. Description Overload is as deadly to a manuscript as not providing any details for writers to envision.  Everyday things that do not move the story along do not require time and attention.  The following sentence requires none either.  “She walked down Main Street amongst brick buildings and bustling businesses to the mailbox standing proudly on the corner.  Its white lettering had faded and the bolts anchoring it to the cement had rusted.  She opened the blue, metal door, dropped in her love letter and hoped that Jeremiah felt the same about her as she felt about him.” 

In a nutshell, do not over-indulge on the treats or your manuscript will never have room for the important things.

How do you combat gluttony in your manuscript?


26 responses to “Seven Writing Sins: Gluttony

  1. Good post, I try to keep action, words, conversation and thoughts trimmed neatly. There has to be something there or my story would be 100 words or less and while that is great for flash fiction when you are writing a novel you need a little more content. If you are aware of fluff and try to avoid it, most of the time you will do well.

    Ciao Bella,


    • Ardee-ann,

      So true. A novel can be long and still utilize ever single word well. It’s when we ramble about nonsence that we fall into this dangerous category.


  2. Great post, Cat! I suppose I’m guilty of this writing sin because I’m usually an overwriter. I’d rather have it there than regret it later that I don’t have enough. (You know, like I’d rather eat the entire carton of ice cream than regret it on my deathbed, LOL!) But I don’t have too much of a problem combatting the overindulgence during revision. Just like exercise, it must be done for a healthy manuscript!

    • Well, if you can cut it out in revision, that’s all that matters. The rough draft is always good for a pint of ice cream drizzled with chocolate syrup.

      Sadly, I’m of the other camp sometimes. I write too sparsely and then have to fill in later. This, of course, also has its problems.

  3. I tend to overwrite in the first draft. Not in description – I always need to go back in and add stuff there – but in repetitions and redundancies 🙂 Lots of fun eliminating those.

  4. I’m kinda with Jemi on this one. I have to go back and fluff things up a bit here and there. I have plenty of junk to cut though what with all those ‘hads’ and ‘justs’. 😉

    • Lisa, my nasty word is that. I know what you mean about them sneaking in.


      Although I didn’t notice many on your pages I read and those were rough…so maybe you do a better job than you think.

  5. An area for many writers is focus. I’ve read many drafts in which the story isn’t focused. An event is happening, but even the author cannot tell you why, or they start tellling the story through one character and then switch perspectives unexpectedly. Many core problems such as these can be avoided by the author if they just asked the questions why, how and what. Why is this person telling the story? Why is this scene significant? What am I trying to say? How does this move the story along?

    If I write a scene and can’t answer these questions I either cut it, or put it in the come back to later pile. When I go around again, if I still can’t answer these questions it’s gone.

    Normally I try to answer these questions before I even write the first word of a scene. This way I don’t have to fight my way through so many drafts.

    • Awesome point, Elisa. This is something I need to be conscious about. I am always amazed by the writers who can analyze their work. I just kind of write. Which isn’t a good thing when I look around and see how well everyone else can pinpoint their problem areas.

      Kinda like looking in a fun house mirror for me. I see the quirks, but may not know why or how to fix them. My brain just doesn’t work that way with my writing.

  6. Oh and have fun this weekend ;p

    • I am so far. But the bus is cold and crowded–kind of an oxymoron when you think about it! Of course, mornings are my favorite time of day and as I write this, only one other person on the bus is awake besides me. I love this time of day!

  7. I slash and burn. I’m always worried about too much. I tend to be sparse rather than verbose. Is there a writing sin in which we have to pad our novels?

    • LOL, Barbara. If there is, I haven’t thought of it yet. Although I know I do the same thing and then have to add detail later. Maybe it’s a minor naughtiness worth two demerits?

  8. This is a fantastic series you’ve started and I can’t wait to read the other posts.
    Thanks so much for sharing this advice.

    • Thanks, Cassandra. I hope you enjoy them. They were actually fun to write, as I could focus my posts–like writing chapters of a novel instead of tons of short stories.


  9. Great series idea. How do I combat gluttony? First of all I describe only what moves the story forward and leads to interesting change. Then I fill in what is necessary to make those events understood. I usually think of a lot of noodling that resonates with my theme but goes nowhere. Those are my biggest and most dangerous indulgence. As much as possible I try to turn these into active events.
    And then I admire the great big Outtakes file I’ve got!

    • Roz, your writing style never ceases to amaze me. I think you are one of the most put together writers I know. When I grow up, can I be like you?

  10. Oh guilty as charged- I do this a lot with description! Then I go back and spend more time revising & cutting than I do with writing it…
    Thanks for the great tips and advice Cat 🙂

    • Lua, I think we are all guilty at some point of doing this. I am working on a sequel to a chapter book and after doing so much revision and tightening of the first, I can see the major gluttonous writing of the initial chapters in my second. I can sniff a massive rewrite in the making!

  11. Editing. LOL. Seriously, I just made (hopefully) my last big cut – about 2k words – with the realization that though I’d included a lot of character development and backstory in those chapters, it was nothing I couldn’t easily work in later or hadn’t already demonstrated. Just compare every chapter to what you’ve already got. If you’re saying something more than once, cut. Be merciless. Keep the best stuff, but trust the reader to remember what you’ve already said because you said it in such a memorable fashion.

  12. Great post!

    On no. 4, I was just reading the reprint of a Stephen King article in The Writer (“Use Imagery to Bring Your Story to Life,” Aug 2010 issue) where his thoughts are in line with yours. He says, on the question of what details to leave in:
    …the details that impress you the most…leave everything else out.

    I love that.

    I also love your idea to combine characters, an option I never thought of before!

    • Christi,

      Thanks so much for stopping by and commenting. I learned the character combo trick awhile back. It takes a conscious effort to do it, but it does decongest the manuscript.

      I’ll check out your blog when I get back!

  13. I agree that balance is very important, in sentence length, in action vs. down time, etc. A story that has too much packed into it is exhausting to read.

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