Everything in Writing Should Have a Purpose
In writing, everything should have a purpose. Nothing should be added just for the sake of taking up space. (Students writing essays might take exception to this.) It doesn't really matter what kind of writing you are doing - everything should be there for a clear purpose. Regardless of whether it's songwriting, screenwriting, blogging, business letters, writing book or magazine manuscripts - the principle remains the same. All of the content you add should have an easy-to-define purpose.
I hate to pick on Rian Johnson (or do I??) because he's already received a lot of criticism for this, but his Canto Bight casino sequence in The Last Jedi is a good example of what not to do. The sequence did not advance the story, and if removed entirely, the overall storyline of the film would not have changed. One might say that the sequence gave insight into Rose and Finn's characters, though the writing and development for these two characters in The Last Jedi has also been heavily criticized. Many have stated that overall this sequence was uninteresting and seemed to exist to kill time and to give Rose and Finn something to do. In other words, it lacks a clear purpose.
Now how about a positive example of writers / creators who succeeded in making sure everything they added into their creation had a purpose? In music, the Beatles excelled at this, and this is something I will be touching on a lot as I post more of my musical analysis here. In film, the original Star Wars trilogy is a good example – everything from the overall scope of the films, down to the smallest details, served a clear purpose, which is a significant reason why the original Star Wars films are considered classics to this day, while the prequels as well as the newer films have been received with at best mixed criticism. For instance, the alien creatures found in the original Star Wars served the purpose of showing what a strange and fascinating world this film was set in. The porgs found in The Last Jedi, however, have been criticized as existing simply to sell toys.
Not sure how to apply this principle to your writing? Try asking yourself what is the purpose of a certain word, sentence, verse, paragraph, chapter, scene, sequence, etc. If you find yourself struggling to figure out why it's there, you might want to ask yourself if it should even be there at all. Removing unnecessary content almost always improves the overall work.
You might even want to analyze other peoples works and think about why the original creators added certain words/verses/sentences/scenes/etc. I think you will find that the most successful writers avoid adding unnecessary content and make sure that everything released in the final version of their product is there for a good reason.
If this is a new concept for you and it seems a bit overwhelming, and you're thinking “OMG I'm going to have to re-think the entire way I write from now on,” don't worry. It might be a bit of an adjustment at first, requiring you to slow down and think more about your content, but once you get the hang of it, you won't have to consciously think about these things so much. At a certain point, it will come naturally to you, becoming part of who you are as a writer / content creator.
Rob Kajiwara is a composer, writer, visual artist, baseball player, and human rights activist from Hawaii. www.RobKajiwara.com