The big question? Does this advance the story? Sometimes, a writer lends his or herself opportunities to explore the profound, to wax eloquent, if you will. The temptation to offer up great pearls of wisdom or beautiful passages is always there, lurking somewhere under the lines. On occasion, these would-be beautiful passages work. Most of the time, they don't. Lately I've been tempted a lot, tempted to deviate just a bit, an iota, and allow myself the luxury of that eloquence. I fight that urge with every fiber of my being, but now and again, I give in only to have to remove those lovely words during a revision cycle.
On one occasion, even my crit partner recognized such an opportunity. In the story, a man was bitten by a rabid fox. "Oh!" my partner exclaimed. "Think of what you could do with that one!" I thought about it. A grown man, writhing and twisting, unable to swallow and foaming at the mouth. Man turned to raging beast, snarling, de-evoloution at its best. I caught myself before I indulged in the passage. Big Dawg and Mumsy Dawg's voices rang in my head: "Does this advance the story?" they asked.
The truth of the matter was that it didn't advance the story. I could have gone on for paragraph after paragraph, lending my readers a vision of the horrible, the twisted, but I didn't. I snapped a quick overview and moved on. The story wasn't about rabies. The story was about the youthful nurse who tried desperately not to dispel the hope of recovery after the initial bite. "Focus," I said to myself. "Focus on the story."
The novel that holds that particular snippet is still making its way among the Dawg Pack. I haven't heard how far it's gotten, but I'm sure it'll be back from Mumsy pretty soon, covered in her indigenous purple marker. Then it'll go to the Big Dawg and finally to our sweet, little pup, a woman known only as the Master Slasher. She works in red.
Now, the new work-in-progress is formulating in my files. Taking shape. Growing those embryonic legs I talked about. The bud of the story will soon blossom, and the hindbrain will force my fingers to work faster, harder, longer, until I write the words 'the end.' During the process of development, my crit partner will receive snippets, pieces of the story. She'll sniff out things I should have seen myself. She'll say things like, "I don't think so-and-so (insert character name) would say this or do this." I'll agree mostly, because if my first reader doesn't think something holds true to character, then my second and third reader probably won't either.
Advancing. It's all about advancing the story, keeping characters true to themselves, killing those darling passages that make you feel like a real writer but do nothing to push the plot. Maintaining action. Keeping the reader with you instead of sending them off to skim through so they can say they made it to the end. The words 'the end' should never make the reader feel relief. They should never make a reader feel like they've reached the top of Everest. The words 'the end' should be reached with regret. The reader should say, 'I hate to leave' rather than 'than God it's over.'