The Mundane Parts of Fiction: How to Move Your Story Along

dog-12Let’s face it; every part of our story doesn’t pop with excitement and drama. There is the humdrum of the everyday life that is about as interesting as a plate of food grown cold. Sometimes we don’t know how to navigate through these sections without boring our readers.

In my last blog I talked about life’s mundane moments–the daily, tedious rituals or habits that on the surface appear to be meaningless at best and completely mind-numbing at worst. But daily habits establish character and sometimes tell us more about people than dialogue. It is those unspoken words and movements of how, when and where we do what we do that reveals more about us than words can ever reveal. In writing fiction, instead of simply moving characters along or having them perform mundane tasks, turn these into opportunities to advance your story.

Do it with purpose

Using the mundane routines can help with character development and you can drop information by bits this way instead of large chunks of seemingly endless exposition. For example, your protagonist, Sean tends to drink too much when he gets upset:

Sean walks inside and smells dinner being prepared. He mixes himself a cranberry juice and vodka–light on the juice. He settles down in the recliner, thinking of his fight with his boss. He shouldn’t have gone on about that account the way he did. He sips as he wonders why he always allows Richard to get to him that way. Looking down at his empty glass he gets up and prepares another drink, this time leaving out the juice and the ice altogether.

Dropping information throughout the story at various opportunities while your characters are performing everyday tasks will help develop your characters. Think of the way you truly find out information about people. Yes, sometimes people tell you about themselves but more often than not you find out much more through careful observation of what they do. It is the same in fiction writing.

If you don’t want to write it, they probably will not want to read it

Elmore Leonard, author of Get Shorty said, “Skip the boring parts.” Sometimes we feel we must include every step of a task to give the story a sense of realness or to ensure that our story doesn’t appear to jump from scene to scene with no transition. Wait. He was just in the car driving home. He’s eating dinner already?  Seamless movement requires transitional words. If we know that Sean is on his way home from work, we don’t have to record him pulling up into the driveway, going up the steps, unlocking the door, closing it and locking it.  Summarize certain areas and trust that your reader will know he had to unlock the door to get inside, unless of course there is a reason that the door is unlocked in the first place or you are trying to build suspense for what he finds once he steps inside. Recording every little step is cumbersome and frankly, your reader won’t even care.

Once is enough

Every day after work Sean leaves and heads home. Chances are he takes the same route, passes the same stores, neighborhood and so on. Therefore it isn’t necessary to rehash the same scene unless of course your point is to show how mundane his routine really is and his frustration for the routine. And even then switch it up a little.  It’s similar to that guy who tells the joke and after the punch line everyone is laughing and instead of him relishing in his successful execution he explains the joke. We get it. Keep it moving.

Trust me, they get it. Keep it moving.

Comments

  1. I understand what you’re saying about the minutiae. I tend to gloss over this when I find it in novels. To the reader it is very obvious when the writer is stretching the scene with these fillers instead of advancing the plot.

  2. Good post. I have always been a keen observer of people and I think you’re right in saying that some actions are far more telling, and more successful at characterising someone than just a “he said – she said” etc and it would be a shame not to use these in our writing.

    Cheers.
    Rob.

  3. indytony says:

    Good advice.

  4. Wendy says:

    Thank you! Well said!

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