Thursday, March 3, 2011

The Writing Desk: Pet Peeves #1: Padding

Okay, I am in no way a writing genius. However, I do know some things about writing and can still give my piece on what makes something good, or at least passable for enjoyable stories. And to start this off, lets look at one of my biggest writing pet peeves: Padding.

Did you know that cat’s spit is also call cat dander? Or that bees dance to communicate with other bees? Is this important right now?

No. No, it is not.

Padding wastes time and only takes up space. Literally. This usually comes from:
a) the writer, after writing the story, still has a few more pages, minutes or screen time that still needs filling and then proceeds to fill them with nothing important,
b) the writer starts writing things that they think the audience wants to know, or a joke we might think is funny, but they are completely wrong.
c) To give important information but in unnecessarily long paragraphs.

Point (a) is actually easy to fix. Not everything has to be about the main plot. Small moments in between the main plot can be a nice, refreshing breather. They might give us insight into characters or insight to things that will be important for a future arc in the plot. Subplots that gradually become part of the main plot are a good example of this.

Point (b) is a little harder. You can’t just write about how your character has smelly gym socks or likes teddy bears. What does this have to do with the character or the plot? Unless it’s insight or foreshadowing, we don’t want to hear it. "Chekhov's Gun" refers to when an item is pointed out earlier in the story but does not make its use in the story known until later on. Also, if the joke your telling makes you laugh and ONLY you-- cut it. If you don’t know, tell the joke to a few people to test it out. A good idea is to stay away from "tasteless", over used jokes or too many puns.

For point (c), I give an example: The hero is in love and is amazed about who they’ve fallen in love with. Alright, this is important exposition. But when as the writer continues, they. Don’t. Stop. Some points are actually repeated but with different words. The reader gets bored and the whole thing translates to “Blah blah, I love her, blah blah blah, I can’t believe I love her, blah blah, I love her... ” Rinsed and repeated for several large paragraphs straight, without giving us any new information. This can easily be solved by cutting down unnecessary sentences and also by using the technique "Show, Don’t Tell". Contrary to popular belief, the audience isn’t stupid.

So the rule of thumb for Padding: If it’s important to the story, it’s not padding. It doesn’t need to be part of the main plot, but for the love of "Red Herrings", don’t use it to waste our time.

Seeya Peoples,
Tegan Dumpleton aka SlugLady28


  1. Kinda reminds me of the reason I stopped in the middle of Eldest. They just couldn't stop talking about... stuff, or how perfect the elves where (and I like elves :( ).

  2. "Kinda reminds me of the reason I stopped in the middle of Eldest. They just couldn't stop talking about... stuff, or how perfect the elves where (and I like elves :( )."

    I can think of a few examples where padding turned me off-- but the most recent and famous one at the moment is the game, Metroid, Other M. The man character never shuts up about things we already figured out.