This is my post for Alex Cavanaugh’s Insecure Writer’s Support Group for the month of August. We are writers helping writers here folks. To read more posts, click on this link.
One of the rules of good writing tells us to show characters in logical sequences of action. If you have someone in a room one moment, they can’t appear on the street in the same scene, unless you use your words to get them there. I learned this a long time ago. Good news, bad news. I know what I’m supposed to do, but my method is flawed. Last night, in class, I read pages and received direct, actionable feedback from our teacher. “Stop with the stage direction,” she said.
Once I understood, I met this criticism with relief. I’ve been so busy whirling my characters around, marching them back, making them look both ways before crossing the street, I’ve been slowing my action down. I can’t tell you how I’ve searched for other ways to say, “She turned,” or “she stepped” when I didn’t need to say it at all.
Here’s are two examples, directly from my work. In paragraph A, you’ll find the original pokey, bla, bla, bla version. In paragraph B, a revision.
A) “Spinning around, she glanced toward the empty doorway to the market. Waiting for two cars to pass, she crossed the street and headed toward Waban Avenue, where the historical society stood, on the far side of the library, three doors down from the corner.”
B) “She crossed the street and headed toward Waban Avenue. The historical society stood on the far side of the library. Three doors down from the corner.”
A) “Turning, she ran from the room, ignoring the greeting offered by a black-haired woman now manning the front desk. Pushing at the heavy door, she vaulted down the steps oblivious to the stares of a white haired man gripping the wrought iron railing as he climbed his way up. Crossing the sidewalk, she leaned on the trunk of a maple tree, holding her pounding temples. Uneven tree bark dug into her back. Fighting to slow her breathing, she examined the cracks in the sidewalk in front of her. “Keep to the program,” her therapist advised when she described how panic threatened to swamp her. “Try not to give into it.”
B) “Marnie bolted. Vaulting down the steps, she leaned on the trunk of a maple. Fighting to slow her breathing, she examined the cracks in the sidewalk. “Keep to the program,” her therapist advised when she described how panic threatened to swamp her. ‘Try not to give into it.’"
In both cases, I think you'll agree once I eliminated the “move to the right" detail, things move much faster.