There is this guy I know. No, it is not my husband. He tells stories a lot. They are about something he thinks is interesting. He’s a great guy, but he doesn’t know how to choose what moments or details to include. His listeners spend the whole story waiting for a punch line that never comes. It is hard not to give him a sarcastic “good story,” when he’s finished.
Yesterday I did some laundry, shattered a jar of baby food on the floor, inflated Mister’s ball pit, washed dishes, and cleaned the floor. But, none of those details are important. They would give me a sarcastic “good story.” When I look back at the year, these things will not be what I remember. I will remember pointing to Daddy’s picture, and Mister saying “Da.” I will remember him quacking like a duck and chasing the cat around with a mischievous look in his eye. Those are the important details.
It is harder to determine the important details to include in my writing. My rule is, if it moves the story forward, include it. That means sometimes I have to get a little creative with how I share details. Just describing the character’s hair color, for example, does nothing to move the story along. But, if I describe her straw-colored hair caked with chocolate pudding from the cafeteria food fight she started, then it becomes a detail that doesn’t stop the plot.
It is harder, still, to decide which moments are important. They also have to expose something useful about the character or the plot. The character pausing at her reflection in the mirror to examine her new braces might not seem important, but if those braces later get her into or out of a jam, then the moment becomes important. It is kind of tricky. Planning, with the twelve points for example, can help. So can careful rereading and a great critique group.
A sequence of moments is what makes a story. Choosing the important moments and weaving them together in an interesting way is what makes a good story.