Wednesday, June 8, 2011

3 Ways to Avoid the Waffle in Writing

What I mean by the waffle is not a Belgium dessert, but prose that meanders along unrelated tangents that fail to add anything to the story. As writers we want to avoid the waffle. Like the dessert, it can add unwanted fat to the story and weigh down the pace and tension. Never give your readers a reason to put down your book.

Below are some tips we can use to help us stay on track:

Slash and burn. One major question to ask often is, does this scene, character, paragraph, sentence add anything to the story? We grow attached to moments of writerly genius. We hold onto our little treasures and often fail to see they can take the shine from the story if their only purpose is to dazzle. Anything that doesn’t add to the story, reveal something relevant about a character, or push the plot forward, has to go.

Find clarity. Another important question to ask is, what am I trying to communicate? Often we wander around our stories or scenes because we aren’t entirely sure of what we want to say. We may not be sure of our characters, we may have too many characters, we may not have a clear idea of where we want the plot to go.

Get a second opinion. Or a third and fourth. Often we get too close to our manuscripts and we lose the ability to discern the weak areas. Find someone you trust, preferably someone with some knowledge of story structure, and get their opinion. Ask them if there are parts that slow down the story. Ask them if they feel there are any unnecessary scenes.

Can you think of other ways of avoiding the waffle? What do you do to keep your stories tight?

Pic: A huge thanks to Dezmond for the use of the picture of these Rum Bombs. Neither of us had waffle pics but I thought this one was brilliant. His cakes are truly amazing. Check them out on his Facebook album: Dezz in the Kitchen. He will also soon open Dezmond Dish Delish culinary site. Sounds exciting!


  1. I'm about to tackle a big revision, and these naughty buggers are exactly what I'll be looking for. Thanks for the great list!

  2. I was looking at those Rum Bombs, squinting, trying to see the waffle in them. lol.

    Nice post. :o)

  3. oh, I despise waffles in books :) The one I'm translating now is actually a waffle kingdom and I'm going crazy :)

    Who made those lovely rumbombs? They look so lovely, gorgeous, professional, tasty and positively sinful he he :)))) Glad you liked the pic, but you could've made those rum bombs yourself since you do have the recipe :PP

  4. What about pancakes?
    I am such a bare bones writer, I'm usually struggling to add to the story. I'm fortunate that my critique partners made suggestions, as the sequel to my book was looking really short!

  5. This is very important. Sometimes I write a scene that is great (in my eyes) or is funny. In the grand scheme of thangs it doesn't work and I hate to kill it. But kill it I must. Good post.

  6. I'm bad at slashing my little darlings right away. But after plenty of time away I come back with a vengeance and omit everything that isn't swiftly paced.

    Awesome post!

  7. I SOOO needed this post. Currently, I'm working from an editor's revision letter, cutting out unnecessary words, sentences, paragraphs, scenes, whatever. Long story short? I've got to knock a 105k word novel down to, oh, 65-70K. Yeah. I know I'll end up removing whole scenes, and I'm dreading it! Because you're right--I've had moments of writerly genius the reader just HAS to see!

    But, no. Like you pointed out, sticking to the story, asking yourself, "What does this scene add? Who grows? Does it really move the story forward? Or--" dun dun duuuun "--backward?" So much easier said than done. But this post certainly does help. Thanks!

  8. Well, I often write nothing except what is absolutely necessary, so most of my editing involves more description to better convey my meaning.

    I think the best way to edit stuff out is to get tunnel vision, see only the heart of the story, and draw big red x's through anything outside that tunnel.

  9. It helps to know where you're going, too. That way you know what needs to be in there to get across your point. I like to know my ending before I get too far in.

  10. The rum bombs look delish. :)

    Good advice again. Killing those darlings is hard, but with a little distance it gets easier. Taking several weeks off from looking at a project usually strips most of the emotional attachment away. Then it's time to take out the scissors and cut.

  11. Good advice again, especially about clarity.

  12. I still remember being told by my art teacher in high school, "Don't waffle, my dears!" :P

  13. I cut over 10,000 words out of my last book... boy was that painful, but necessary.

  14. If it doesn't advance the plotline - SLASH! I hear agents and editors saying over and over: less is more. A writer should know the reasoning behind every word, paragraph, page and chapter.

  15. BTW - those desserts look scrumpcious :)

  16. I'm sighing big as I read this. One of my manuscripts moves at the pace of a flower blooming-- and this is integral to the work.

    Is there room for this pace in our current culture? To trim and slash and burn this book would be to trounce the delicate blooms in a garden. It may be that this novel is not for commercial consumption ...

    Or perhaps there is room somewhere for this old-fashioned romance?

  17. What wonderful tips. I agree with each one, especially clarity. Oh and that every thing: character, scene and every nuance, should move the story forward. Great post!

  18. Great post! Something we writers can definitely use a refresher on from time to time. And yes, those cakes look delicious. Dez is awesome in the kitchen.

  19. I'm slashing a whole world of hurt on my first draft's backside right now. It's a bittersweet experience, since I know it's necessary but I'm losing a lot of my "babies" in the process.

  20. I learned a new term as far as writing. It's a good one. Thanks for sharing this. Also, those rumbombs do look mouth watering. I need to get a snack!

  21. I so often ask for second opinions but find either people can be reluctant to give it, or don't say what they really think, which is frustrating/confusing. It's good to find a critique partner who will tell you straight in a constructive, positive way. :O)

  22. Julie, haha love your term for them ;)

    Kristal, who needs waffle when you have Rum Bombs? ;)

    Dezzy, thanks again for the use of your amazing treats. I don't know where you find the time to do everything you do.

    Alex, I'd take rum bombs over pancakes any day! ;)

    Diana, hehe sounds familiar

    Pk Hrezo, yep, same. I need time before I can slash.

    Alyssia, yikes that's a lot of words to have to cut. It will all be worth it in the end, though.

    McKenzie, gotta love those big red Xs

  23. KarenG, I agree. I always get myself into trouble when I don't have the ending clear in my head.

    L G Smith, getting that distance is key.

    Anthony, thanks

    Trisha, wasn't art all about the waffle? ;)

    Alexia, wow! That's a big achievement. It is hard.

    Las Vegas, Less is definitely more.

    Suze, you can still have a slower paced story, as long as everything is relevant. Cutting shouldn't make the story clipped. It should make it... neat.

  24. Kathi, thanks

    Melissa, I hope you popped on over to check out what else he can cook. Yummo!

    Lindz, lol. Bittersweet. Yes, exactly.

    LynNerd, hehe they do look soooo tempting :)

    Madeleine, finding honest crit partners is important. It helps when they can balance the good with the bad and still tell you what you need to hear.

  25. Agree heartily on this one. One way that I try to combat waffle is to look for one word that can replace the 3 or 4 that I've used to describe something. It's much easier for the reader and is hands down just stronger writing.

  26. I want waffles!

    I think you've summed up the methods to cut waffle perfectly. Every scene, paragraph, sentence, and word must move the story forward.

    Ellie Garratt

  27. I'm all for slashing and burning waffles!!

    But maybe keep the chocolate ones for later! :-) Take care

  28. I"m getting better and better and seeing them myself, not in the first or even second draft. But when I go in with blinders off, willing to cut anything. And, crit partners help mightily.

  29. Lately I've been writing a synopsis or a general plot flow before I start. I'm not a hugely disciplined outliner, but having a road map keeps me from veering off course.

  30. Helpful tips. Why does something that tastes so good with maple syrup cause such indigestion in our writing?

  31. Yummy pic!! Thanks, Dez! When's the party so we can munch?

    Thanks for this list. I'm adding padding (hey, that rhymed), and then I'll go through and slash and burn. I do love my "little treasures"....

  32. Such great advice! I definitely err on the side of writing too much, and so I can sometimes bury the "good" stuff in the waffly stuff. :P Slash and burn, indeed!

  33. Slash and burn, so so true, but always hard to do. Nonetheless, I find that this really helps focus an author...or at least it helps me:)

  34. Those look delicious. Yum.

    I call those left turns. I'm ok with allowing that in a 1st draft, because I often dont' know what I want to accomplish then and it helps me figure it out. In revision, I'll write out chapter forms and write down what I want to accomplish in a chapter. Helps keep me focused.

    Then cycling it through crit partners helps, too.

  35. Sorry but I got distracted by that picture

  36. A fantastic list and an awesome post. Thanks for sharing!

  37. What a great post. Fantastic points!

  38. I like your response, Lynda. Thank you.

  39. Slash & Burn!

    Could there be a forum for the bonfirel?

  40. Ah, but waffles aer so nice! Besides, you have to get some tasty sweets every now and then! ;)

  41. I'm often amazed by what others can see in my writing that I can't. Getting the opinions of others is so important.

  42. I am going to tackle what I call a last revision, a big one at that. These points will be of great help.

  43. I'm currently reading a book that seems to meander a whole lot and it's very annoying. I'm sticking with it til the end, but it's been a challenge to do so. Maybe it will all somehow come together in the end (the author is a rather noted one), but it will be a tedious arrival in any case. I am going to review this book in a couple of weeks. It's called The Black Veil by Rick Moody.
    I probably fall into the same trap in my own writing at times and will probably need to reassess why and if I'm am truly achieving what I want to.

    Tossing It Out

  44. The picture got to me---mmmmm--and I gave up sugar two weeks ago--ok--I'm waffling here--- My critique partners are good at pointing out the junk!

  45. D U Okonkwo, yes, tightening the word use is important.

    Ellie, hehe, waffles are yum!

    Old Kitty, I'm with you!

    Laura, yes, we need that distance.

    Sarah, I love a roadmap as well. It doesn't have to be hyper detailed.

    Liza, hehehe. Because the things we love aren't always good for us -- certainly not in large amounts. ;)

  46. Carol, at least no writing is wasted writing. It all helps to improve our skills.

    Meagan, it's an easy thing to do when we immerse ouraelves in the story.

    Mark, it does.

    M Pax, great method :)

    Sean, yeah... understandable :)

    Nas, thanks

    Ciara, thanks

    Suze, hug

    Robert, lol

    Theresa, a little indulgence can be fine as long as it doesn't turn into too much ;)

    Susan, exactly. That's why 2nd opinions are crucial.

    Rachna, good luck with your revision.

    Lee, meander for meander sake can be hugely annoying and I usually stop reading. There's too many books I want to read.

    Terri, gave up sugar? eek! Gotta love crit partners :)

  47. Great post Lynda, and super questions to ask. I'm in revisions at the moment, and I've put them up in a sticky note on my desktop :)




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