Seven years ago, when I first participated in the ArmadilloCon Writers’ Workshop (two more weeks until the sign-up deadline!), I brought the first chapter of an early draft of the now-trunked Crown of Druthal. I’ve mentioned before that I went in cocky and got properly shredded.
But one bit of shredding stuck with me, even as I thought it was odd and out of place.
In said first chapter, my main character (Augustine) meets some friends in a restaurant for a bit of character- and world-building scenes before he gets grabbed by the King’s Marshals and dragged into the plot. It’s not a terrible bit, but my writing was all over the place– bad POV and tense use. Seriously, embarrassing. And it got shredded.
But one bit of shredding really stayed with me, partly because I thought it was so odd. At the restaurant, Augustine’s food comes– roasted chicken, cheese, bread, and mustard. He particularly relishes the mustard.
And one of the critique partners of that sessions mentioned, “And you go on and on about the mustard.”
I should mention that the mustard? Is one sentence. And not some overlong, rambling around sentence of craziness.
So, of course, I thought, “This guy is crazy. I shouldn’t listen to him.”
Later I considered it more. And it became clear to me that the problem wasn’t the mustard in and of itself. The problem was all sorts of little details that were just condiment, not meat. World-building and atmosphere, but no real content. The mustard was just the breaking point for this guy. It seemed to him to be me going on and on, and in a way I had been.
In short, I had become a rambling storyteller than makes you want to scream, “Get to the point already!”
So this is the point: mustard has to be applied judiciously. Just enough to give a kick. But not so much as to overpower the real meat of what you’re eating.
Time to go spread a little on.