Occam’s Razor in Fiction

Everybody probably learned Occam’s Razor in school at some point.  The simplest explanation is usually the correct one.  Well, there’s actually some stuff in there about parsimony and assumptions, but for the purposes of laymen, the simplest explanation is usually the correct one.

Simplicity in fiction is generally a good policy to follow as well.  Now I don’t mean that the most obvious direction is the one you should take.  But if you find that you’re having to come up with all kind of plot contortions to make things work, there’s a really good possibility that you’re suffering from complicatitis and need to trim some fat from the plot.

Since Pot got back I axed a distraction plot (as in something was going on in one place that was supposed to distract the hero/heroine from what’s really going on).  I also 86ed several minor characters/victims and combined two minor characters to simplify things and get hero and heroine on the same page easier (it’s short, so that’s a good thing).  Which left me with…well not a lot, honestly.  It gutted my middle.  So that’s what I spent yesterday doing.  Figuring out the simplified plot.  The revised outline is a couple of scenes shorter.  I think I have one scene that isn’t getting totally cut, and maybe a half of one other scene.  Glad I was only about 5500 in.

13 thoughts on “Occam’s Razor in Fiction

  1. Reworking of drafts is always a pain in the ass. Rachmaninoff, when it went through its last big edit, was stripped of 20,000 words or so in order to make the plot work. It was painful, having to dump months of work. Same thing happened in the most recent big edit of Catalyst, where 10,000 words were stripped and the plot completely reworked.

    I think I wasn’t prepared for those cuts because only the ending to The Keeper had been altered from its original writing, and I was more than happy to change it, losing only about 1,000 words from my total word count.

    Still. It stings. *chuckles* Maybe not for some people, but I get really attached to the bits and pieces I write. I’m told it’s utterly unprofessional and I should always be ruthless and cold when approaching a story but… it’s a piece of me, you know? I don’t want to be ruthless and cold with a piece of myself. XD Cheesy, huh?

    1. I don’t have a problem cutting massive swaths of stuff–I’ve done it often enough. Ordinarily I’d just sigh and move on, but it’s annoying when I’m trying to keep to a schedule to get some things out by Christmas.

      1. I think I wind up feeling put behind… Here I thought these huge sections were complete and I was on schedule, and then I sit back and realize, no, they have to go completely and I need to begin again. It can be disheartening.

  2. I have a question. This is just pure curiosity. Do you ever disagree with your crit partner? And if you do, do you still do what she says or do you get stubborn and stick to your guns? One of the reasons (but not the only reason) I asked this question is because there were some things in a friend’s book that made me cringe and most of the time he went with my suggestions. But I wonder if I just wore him down….

    1. Once in a while but usually she’s right and I know it. I just need confirmation. She’s usually better at verbalizing what I already know is wrong–I’m just kind of instinctual and I’ll know that something isn’t working. She’s great at putting her finger on why. I can’t think of any occasions where I disagreed when I didn’t come back later and decide she was right. 😀

        1. What, disagree with ME?! Are you mad, woman?

          The biggest part of what makes our relationship work is that Kait’s the kind of person I can trust to take criticism constructively. From our first interactions, I started to recognize her as a grown-up writer in that respect. The fact that she says “I want your opinion” and she actually means it, is what made it possible for any editorial prowess I have to develop.

          Studying Kait’s work, where I can be much more objective than with my own, analyzing why something didn’t work for me and trying to put that to her in a way that’s clear, trying to come up with suggestions for changes, that kind of thing has helped my own work tremendously.

          Yes, Kait sometimes disagrees with me, and we do sometimes argue. Not in a personal way, but we can argue over the work to the point where I’ll get frustrated and start growling at the screen. I can’t think of specific examples (beyond something like the other day when she gave me such a hard time about changing “cell” to “cell phone” so I wouldn’t get an image of jail when I read the scene–hey, these are not human, who knows what hinky stuff’s going on in the basement), and I think that’s because when she’s in the right and does stick to her guns, and I read the final draft, it works so well that I forget whatever it was I thought I didn’t like.

          Uh oh, time for writing sprints. You are saved from this comment getting any longer!

          1. For the record, out of about 15 people who replied to my poll about that particular issue, you and one other person were the ONLY people who thought jail. Everyone else automatically said “but there are no phones in jail cells…” 😛 Just sayin’.

          2. Also for the record, when I DO disagree with her on something important and stick to my guns, she makes me EXPLAIN why what I’m saying/thinking/doing is right and why some other thing won’t work, which usually clarifies things even further in terms of the WHY and eliminates a lot of little darlings that exist “just because”. Also an invaluable skill.

  3. You two obviously have a great partnership. Keep up the good work. Both of you are great writers. (I’m about a quarter through Hush Money).

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