A friend reminded me today of one of my favourite quotations. I've had it up on my bebo profile for a long time, without really explaining what it means.
Apparently, the great Italian sculptor Bernini was asked how he created such a beautiful marble statue of an elephant. His answer was to get a block of marble and "take away everything that isn't an elephant."
In writing my stories, I always remember this, and strive to take away everything that isn't an elephant. That is, to remove (or not insert in the first place) anything that is not absolutely essential to the story.
Michelangelo said a similar thing, but he said it with less wit and no elephants:
"I saw the angel in the marble and carved until I set him free."
But then again, I do give Michelangelo a lot of credit for a different quotation, one which sums up my attitude to plot:
"A great sculpture can roll down a hill without breaking."
A good book must have a plot that is absolutely indestructible and inevitable. You could throw it down a hill and it would land the right way up.
(PS. "People who love quotations love meaningless generalisations." - Graham Greene)