I watch my weight through diet and exercise, but I’m not what you’d call a calorie counter. I know what foods are bad for me and weed them off the menu when I’m in the reduction mode. However, I work closely with eight women and have had numerous conversations with them on the subject. Through osmosis, I’ve picked up all sorts of interesting tidbits of information about food energy, including the topic of empty calories!
Empty calories are high-energy foods with poor nutritional profiles, typically from processed carbohydrates or fats. Put simply, empty calories = high calories but low nutrition. Another technical phrase commonly used to describe this type of food energy is discretionary calories (I had to chuckle when I read that one), but we regular folk just call it what it really is…Junk Food. French fries, snicker bars, double-stuffed Oreo’s, ice cream, pizza, a bottle of Samuel Adams or glass of red wine, all the stuff we really REALLY love! Ultimately, no matter how good they temporarily make us feel, they are not good for our bodies. These empty calories provide short-term stimuli with no long-term benefits, and can actually be detrimental.
It occurred to me recently that I’ve experienced this same feeling after closing the cover on some of the books I’ve read. All show and very little substance. The purple prose equivalent to a banana split. I won’t name names, but I know a few of my favorite authors who have seemed to have taken a vacation while writing a book and the result was less than satisfying. I call it the ‘All dressed up with nowhere to go’ syndrome. Being a man, and firmly entrenched in the mystery/suspense genre where plot heavy manuscripts are the norm, I’ll admit my threshold for hollow, flowery writing is more limited than most of my blog followers. Certainly, we all have our boundaries.
I enjoy reading evocative, stylized, ornate, emotionally charged writing as much as anyone, as long as the narrative has weight and continues to move forward simultaneously. Extravagant prose that draws attention to itself and bogs down the flow is a guaranteed way to cause me to skim ahead. Nevertheless, I’ve been guilty of sliding in a glazed donut myself a time or two (as pointed out by my CP’s), so I know how hard it is to resist the temptation. Just as its next to impossible to stop yourself from tossing that pan of lasagna into your shopping cart while at the supermarket, because it’s so easy to prepare and taste so good, it’s the same as trying to keep those calories out of your novel.
And why is this so important anyway? Because I guarantee you that all of the agents you’ll be sending your prospective manuscript to are literary dietitians and can easily recognize these empty calories for what they are. So substitute fruit snacks for those pop-tarts in chapter seven and try whole grains instead of the refined ones in the scene you’re currently writing. Your body, and your manuscript, will be better for it.