Have you ever started writing a scene that starts off so purposeful, and then three paragraphs in, your main character is still working on getting dressed and eating breakfast? This awesome story has turned into, well, your morning routine. No offense, but that's probably the last thing people want to read about.
I can't tell you how many times I have fallen into the trap of the mundane. And the results are devastating: readers who don't want to read, and even worse, a writer who loses interest in writing. How can you continue writing when you character is just munching away on dinner and you'd really like to go eat dinner yourself? There's not a more effective way to make a story die than to slowly suffocate it with mundane details.
I'm very aware of this tendency in my own writing. I've talked about it with fellow writing friends and tried various revision techniques, but somehow it always sneaks through. While recently reading a book on vacation though, I slowly found my answer. I realized a big difference between my writing and the author's. Her story had purpose; every paragraph and every chapter accomplished something. There was no teeth brushing, meal eating, or changing clothes. And I wasn't distressed that her characters never seemed to do personal hygiene. I didn't even notice! I was too involved in the actual story.
The only time those types of things showed up were if they were important. The meal they were eating with their family was fraught with tension. The usually tidy and put-together character didn't care about changing their rumpled clothes or brushing their hair. The only time the mundane came up was to give insight into the characters or plot. And by the way it was presented it could hardly be called mundane anymore.
Knowing what I had to do, I took a long look at my story. It's very hard to cut off the dead weight because sometimes those scenes and descriptions can be close to your heart. But what are they accomplishing? Going forward, I'm going to make every piece of writing work harder for me. It has to either:
- Give character insight or development
- Creating setting/feeling
- Further the plot
If a scene doesn't accomplish at least one of those things, I need to think seriously about cutting it out. And even if it does accomplish one of those things, I need to ask myself if it can work harder. Ex: if a piece of writing is just setting the scene, is there a way I can describe the setting so that it also conveys character insight?
This won't be an easy task. In fact, it will be very arduous and taxing on the mind. But in order to create a crisp story that doesn't lag, it needs to be done.
One word of caution: the flow of the story and feeling it creates does still need to stay intact. You don't want scenes to end up disjointed or have a story world that doesn't feel immersive. But pay attention to those mundane sections that creep up. What are they adding?
Best of luck to you! I am optimistic about this new approach. If anything, it will be one of the greatest challenges to me yet as a writer. And one that I'm hoping will really improve my future writing!