Writing Secrets: Take the leap – we’ll leap with you

 In Jo-Anne Richard's blog, Tips for Writers

We don’t need to follow your character into the bathroom.

Her brushing and flossing routine don’t do it for us – or even for your story. If, however, she enters the bathroom to eye the razor blades in a longing way, or to wee on a pregnancy test stick, then by all means take us along with her.

This occurred to me because last week I was talking about lazy verbs. I mentioned that, if a character doesn’t do something in a significant way, which shows us more about them and their state of mind, don’t include it.

One of our mentees allowed her characters to slam their car doors every time they arrived somewhere. I think she recognised that, “She closed the car door” wasn’t very interesting, so she resorted to slamming. The fact is, her characters are not going to slam a car door unless they’re really angry. If not, it doesn’t require a mention. We take for granted that your characters don’t leave their car doors wide open when they arrive somewhere.

She walked to the door. She turned the handle. She pushed the door open. She stepped through into the kitchen…

Boring. If the nature of her going tells us nothing about her personality and state of mind, you can simply let her appear in the kitchen and we’ll understand that she got herself there unaided. If the speed and precipitate nature of her passage is significant, then have her run barefoot or trip over the dining room chair on her way there.

It underlines a message about writing: everything has a job to do. No word should be there just to move your characters about your stage. Words have to work harder than that. They show us how characters do things, which gives us more insight into their personalities and their state of mind.

Read Richard’s latest blog: ‘Monday Motivation: The secret in the iron-bound chest

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