Straight out of college I worked as a staff editor for a small publishing company. We put out a bimonthly women's magazine, which usually had a short fiction feature. One thing I remember being a major pain in editing those stories was how an author (who was often just dipping her toe into fiction writing) felt the need to explain everything her character was doing.
Mary got up from the breakfast table, opened the front door, and walked down her sidewalk, admiring the new pansies. She reached her mailbox and opened it but found nothing but bills. She walked back up the sidewalk to her house....
Unless Mary met the love of her life on that sidewalk or encountered a dead body, it's not necessary to put all that information in there. Yes, there is a certain amount of setting that is needed to ground a character, but sometimes less is more. Often a few brushstrokes are all that is needed to convey an action.
Example: Mary checked her mail. Bills, again.
I'm especially sensitive to this at the moment because I'm eyeball deep in editing my novel. To my horror, I'm guilty as well. For example, consider this passage where I'm trying to describe my main character entering an old library:
A plain wooden door with no handle was open. Ana walked through it into a small vestibule that had another glass door that she pushed through.
Frankly, that's pretty clunky and doesn't make a lot of sense. Trying again:
Ana pushed open the wooden door and found herself in a small vestibule.
Not terrific but certainly easier to read. The reason the first take was so convoluted was because I had an actual library in my head and envisioned how Ana would walk into it. But I need to be careful that I'm not insulting my reader. They know that to get into a room you have to walk into it. I don't have to spell that out for them every single time.
I'm curious if other writers run into this also? What are your fixes?
SPOTLIGHT ON Dr. MAGGIE WALSH
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