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Eliminating the Frame

There’s a little thing that writers do that bugs me: It’s called a frame. Basically, it’s everything around the necessary information that doesn’t really help your reader understand anything, it’s just superfluous. Here’s an exaggerated example to prove my point:

She saw with her eyes that there was an elephant standing impossibly in the castle’s ballroom.

Or you could simply say:

An elephant stood, proud, tall, and incongruous, in the middle of the castle’s ballroom.

Frames are everywhere. And they are all fat, so trim them. Every time you describe that your character saw, heard, felt, smelled, or tasted something, see if you can’t drill into the more essential information of the sentence and cut out the unnecessary words. Instead of, “He smelled the cakes fresh out of the oven and they filled the room with warm cinnamon,” focus on the latter half of the sentence to set the mood. (And kudos to you if you’re using all five senses in your writing, including taste, smell, and touch, which often take a backseat to sight and hearing!)

No matter if you’re telling your story in first person or third, you are basically saying, “This is what my character experienced” when you write a picture book or novel. There’s no reason to keep saying, “She experienced such and such,” which is basically what you’re reminding your reader of each time you use a frame. Simply get straight to the such and such. It’s a small trick (and therefore a short post) but it will make your writing that much leaner and cleaner.

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  1. Dad Who Writes (Gabriel)’s avatar

    Another item for my revision checklist – “No frames!”

  2. Laura Stone’s avatar

    Thanks, Mary. I’m off to whittle my frames into canvas-stretcher bars.

    The whirl of the dremel buzzed through her house and the scent of burnt pine choked the air.

    :) Looking forward to the webinar!

  3. Jenny’s avatar

    I am new to writing fiction and this has been a pretty inspiring post – thanks very much!

    Jenny
    Wordsmithforkids.blogspot.com

  4. Stephanie Scott’s avatar

    Good pointers, I made some notes on my phone in my little revisions quick tips list. I wrote a story in first person present, which I’m not used to, and this stuff was scattered all over. I found it hard to get the perspective right without telling vs showing. Eventually, after it was pointed out to me by a test reader, I rewrote in first person past, and I have a much easier time distinguishing the “I heard him say…” type stuff.

  5. Carolyn’s avatar

    This might be my worst habit.

    I once go through and cut those bad boys my ms is going to shrink by, like, 10k. Swear to God.

  6. Krista V.’s avatar

    I call these character filters, and I’m constantly winnowing them out of my own manuscripts and the manuscripts I critique. We don’t need to filter the story through our POV characters; our readers will already assume that everything they’re seeing, hearing, or smelling is something the POV character is seeing, hearing, and smelling, too.

  7. Beth Hull’s avatar

    When I saw the title, I thought this was going to be a blast on frame stories, which also drive me crazy.

    This is a good tip – something I’ll keep in mind as I write & revise.

  8. Red Tash’s avatar

    Excellent writing advice. Takes practice. A lot of fantastic reading will help wash this practice from your mind, but you have to be intentional about it.

  9. Linda’s avatar

    Awesome post and great tip. I’ve been working hard to eliminate the frames in my MS and it really is stronger because of it.

  10. Jessica’s avatar

    Seems like something that should be obvious, yet it isn’t – at least not for me! Thanks for the tip!

  11. Mary’s avatar

    Beth — I can write one of those, too! I have a lot of blasts in my brain… :)

  12. Lois D. Brown’s avatar

    Great post. More and more I notice this is in my writing. I think it’s a good sign I’m noticing it. Now, I need to get rid of it.

  13. Beth Hull’s avatar

    If you do write a blast on frame stories, I will happily chime in.

  14. Catherine Johnson’s avatar

    Great tip, Mary. I’m finding it easier to cut, the longer I leave it alone.

  15. Mary Ann Duke’s avatar

    I love the word superfluous. I have to use it frequently when grading my fourth graders’ papers.

  16. Wendy Delfosse’s avatar

    This comment is late in coming but I really did enjoy this article. After going through and looking for these I’d suggest to writers if you’re searching specifically for these add in the “can” variation. Searching for “I see…” won’t show “I can see…”
    Thanks again, Mary!

  17. Dee Keymel’s avatar

    I am new to your site. Thanks for re-posting on Facebook. I’ll be checking
    my work for the “frames”.

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