Raise the Stakes by Establishing Ramifications

One of my favorite ways to raise the stakes is by establishing ramifications for an action way before (ideally) that action takes place. The most obvious example of this that I can cite is the opening to The Hunger Games. Please excuse me for using such an obvious example, but I wanted to pick something that people had a good chance of having read. Suzanne Collins masterfully establishes what “the reaping” ceremony is from the first paragraph on. The ramifications of getting chosen at the reaping are very clear: you will go to the Hunger Games, and you will probably die.

raise the stakes
If there’s a high stakes ramification in your story, make sure it’s established long before it actually happens.

Why Establish Ramifications?

We learn all about the reaping ceremony, and its risks. We hear in detail the lengths that people go to in order to avoid getting reaped. We start to fear the reaping–and, by extension, the Hunger Games–because Katniss fears the reaping and the Hunger Games. (We also start to love Katniss as a protagonist despite her thorny exterior because she fears the reaping and the Hunger Games for her little sister more than she fears it for herself. There’s that compassionate core to her that we see again and again with Peeta and Rue in the arena.)

Raise the Stakes To Raise the Tension

So by the time the reaping ceremony arrives, we are extremely anxious about it. Not just because the narrator is extremely anxious, but because Suzanne Collins has established the ramifications of getting chosen. The reader knows exactly what will happen: an Everdeen sister will be chosen in the reaping. Even though we are able to sense and call this inevitable plot twist very early on, I hesitate to call it predictable. Collins has done her job to raise the stakes and our anxiety to sky-high levels. As a result, we dread the reaping and yet can’t wait to see how the characters will react and, eventually, get themselves out of this horrifying situation (check out tips for writing a reaction). When Prim is chosen and when Katniss volunteers, our initial anxiety (knowing what’s coming and knowing the ramifications of this plot event) is resolved, because something the author has built up has finally come to fruition, but then we’re shot into a whole new stratosphere of anxiety because now those ramifications are about to happen. Reading the opening to The Hunger Games is a thrill ride precisely because Collins has prepared us so well for the reaping.

Establish Ramifications Early On for Maximum Tension

Think about establishing ramifications when it comes to your own work. If your character is going to get kicked out of their house should they bring home anything less than a perfect grades (an exaggerated example, perhaps), the anxiety of this ramification has to be in place LONG BEFORE report card day. You’ll raise the stakes because the reader knows exactly what to expect, fears it, and is now worried about what will happen. Then it’s all about creating a plot that takes a turn in the direction of a bad grade.  And–it should go without saying–the consequence you established must come to pass. Sure, it may not be nice, and it may not be fun to do to your character, but that’s how you keep that all-important story tension high!

If you have a bad report card or a reaping in your story, make sure the ramifications are established long, long before. Raise the stakes as much as possible, and then play your reader’s anxieties for all they’re worth!

My fiction editing services will help you raise the stakes and keep tension high in your story.

Make Your Plot Problem Actionable

When you’re writing a plot problem, there should be balance. Just like there’s a balance between too much action and too much information in fiction, a balance between external conflict and internal conflict, and a balance between characterization and plot, there should also be a balance between high-stakes obstacles and easy hurdles.

plot problem, story obstacle
Give your protagonist a story obstacle where they have a chance to work their way out.

The best case scenario with any plot point is that it’s an obstacle that seems just impossible enough and then is acted upon in a surprising way, bringing about delight and relief in the reader. The two extremes on the scale of obstacles: the wimpy story obstacle that is overcome too easily, and the impossible story obstacle that kills the reader’s sense of hope.

Plot Problem: Wimpy Obstacle

The first one is bad for an obvious reason: you always want to be playing up your stakes and tension, especially as you move toward the climax of your story. If a bad guy goes down on the first punch or the secret journal that simply can’t be found is…in the attic, well, that’s a bit lame. You don’t lose your reader if you have one or two of these easy obstacles, but if the reader gets the message that no plot problem is really all that challenging in your book, you will lose them after a while.

Plot Problem: Impossible Obstacle

The latter problem is, actually, what I tend to see more: the story obstacle that is so impossible, so implausible, so high as a hurdle, that I give up almost before the character tries because it strains my suspension of disbelief. While I applaud writers for making big, high-stakes obstacles and putting them in the paths of their characters, the protagonist must always stand at least a fraction of a snowball’s chance in hell of overcoming the plot problem, or the reader will click off. There are those “impossible dreams” that are darn difficult to achieve, and so the journey of that process is worth sticking around for, and then there are those goals that are simply impossible. Aim for the former. (An off-shoot of this impossible story obstacle is the protagonist requiring something of a character, and that character just saying flat-out: “No.” That does not give you much room to strive toward the goal, either, and, in most cases, strikes me as extremely arbitrary.)

To strike this balance: Set the bar high, but give your character a fighting chance.

Hire me as your book editor and I’ll help you achieve balance in your manuscript.

Redundant Writing and the Law of Diminishing Returns

There’s something called the Law of Diminishing Returns and I apply it a lot to fiction when I give notes, especially when it comes to redundant writing. This addresses redundant writing at the sentence level, but also with character arc elements and plot points. It has several different applications, but the point behind each is the same: Every time something is repeated, it has to be different.

redundant writing, law of diminishing returns
Redundant writing and pattern, especially when it comes to plot, can lull your reader into not caring.

Redundant Writing Drains Excitement From Your Story

The biggest objective of writing fiction is to make readers care. But it’s also easy to screw that up. Take, for example, action sequences in a novel or film. They sure are exciting. Until you have five of them in a row and they start feeling boring. That’s the Law of Diminishing Returns in action. Or sex scenes in a romance novel. Or conversations between friends that are meant to be funny. These can all have impact on a reader or viewer, but you have to be very careful with any repeating elements in your story. (More issues with redundancy in writing here.)

The golden ideal in fiction is to have your action, relationships, imagery, tension, stakes–everything–build as you near the climax of your story. Your plot cannot plateau, and it certainly can’t slow down, as you go. Everything must also grow in significance. But if you have some redundant elements, like lots of classroom scenes or several fights between your protagonist and antagonist, those will lose significance and power each time and threaten to drag your plot down.

When you’re doing revision, go through your manuscript and isolate everything that repeats, whether it’s an encounter between characters, a setting, or a plot point. Then make sure that each is different enough from its predecessors and also that you craft its impact slightly differently from all the other times. If it’s a fight with a couple, let this fight plant a seed of doubt in the character’s mind about the future of the relationship. Let the next one inspire the character to stick it out and work through the issue. Let the final fight lead to a bout of the silent treatment, or whatever.

Attacking Redundant Writing and Plot

Sometimes you have to have things happen multiple times in a plot. If you can’t change that, change the impact or the significance or the character’s takeaway. The reaction should be bigger, or the emotion should be different. Shift focus from what you’re doing to the impact it’s having.

There are lots of ways to manage this issue and keep readers from experiencing the Law of Diminishing Returns. Being aware of the problem is the most important step toward fighting it.

Hire me as your book editor so I can help you weed out this issue, and many others in your manuscript, and get it ready to submit.

Plot Development and The Plot Turning Point

Here’s something to always keep in mind, no matter if you’re writing picture books or full-blown novels: each major plot turning point in your novel should change the course of events and plot development in a permanent way. These types of events are going to be crucial to both character and story. If your plot points can be rearranged in any order without consequence, you’re doing plot development wrong.

plot turning point, plot development
Just like this sugar cube, a plot turning point should have a clear “before” and “after,” with no going back to the way things were.

The Irreversible Plot Turning Point

If you have a plot turning point where the effect isn’t crystal clear, no decision is made, no characters change, and the trajectory of your story seems to bob along rather than follow a very direct line, your plot points are not absolute enough. In plots like this, your characters could likely revert to exactly who they were at the beginning of the book if they wanted to. That’s a problematic novel, to me. (Try starting with a character outline, so you can track character and plot development.)

Anchor the forward momentum of your story along plot development that divides your tale into a clear “before” and “after” with no going back. This will also help you work on the all-important elements of raising the stakes and story tension. These will act on character. Even if the plot turning point is not a HUGE moment on the page, let it have a HUGE effect. For example, a short conversation with friends in which something is revealed that changes a relationship forever. (You can, and should, of course focus on big plot points and character life changes also.)

The moment itself isn’t big. A few words are said. But the effect is felt and leads to further plot development. Basically, you want everything in your novel to have an effect. Otherwise, why is it there? This is especially important for your plot turning point moments, the ones that resonate throughout the story.

Struggling with plot development? Work with me as your book editor and we can engineer a strong and compelling story together.

Ending a Chapter: Button on Character

Today’s post has to do with ending a chapter. It also ties in with Monday’s post about guiding the reader emotionally with character feelings. Whenever you plunge your reader into white space (the white space at the end of a chapter, for example), you run the risk of losing them. So a lot of writers employ some smart tactics to keep this from happening.

ending a chapter, chapter button
Whenever you plunge your reader into the white space at the end of a chapter, you run the risk of losing them.

Recommendations for Ending a Chapter

I always recommend ending a chapter on a cliffhanger, or introducing a new character, piece of information, or plot complication. Anything that will add tension and make your reader compulsively turn the page and start reading your next chapter. In essence, you never want to end a chapter with the character thinking about how tranquil everything is, or the reader will close the book and go play Xbox.

Well, sometimes you do use something drastic, like a cliffhanger, as your chapter button, but there’s the potential for a missed opportunity there, as well. Take this example:

And her father–right there in the flesh, after she thought he’d been dead all these years–walked right through the door.

Wow! Cool! I want to find out what happens, don’t you? Well, this could also be very abrupt if it’s the last sentence of your chapter. And if you tend to do this over and over, it will start to feel like your reader hitting a brick wall with each successive instance. Per the Law of Diminishing Returns, the cliffhanger tactic will also start to lose its tension-rich effectiveness.

Ending a Chapter with a Button on Character

One way to mitigate this effect, retain the tension, and also give the reader a more complex emotion than just “surprise” is to always button on character. This means to go back to your protagonist for a reaction before abruptly ending the scene. We get the surprise (or whatever tactic you’re using here), but then we’ll also put it in context, get some emotional resonance, and refocus on the protagonist’s experience of the story. If done right, this packs more of a punch than just a shock. So don’t leave your protagonist and their emotional reaction hanging until the beginning of the next chapter every time. A strong character-focused chapter button will still keep readers invested enough to turn the page.

When you invest in my book editing services, I do a close evaluation of all aspects of your story — including your chapter endings.

Writing Fantasy Picture Books

I’ve been seeing a lot of manuscripts of fantasy picture books that are what I’ll call Flight of Imagination. A kid is either dreaming or out playing and the plot of the book deals with them having an adventure based largely in their imagination.

fantasy picture books, books about imagination
Fantasy picture books should include more substance than simply the fruits of a child’s fantasy playtime.

An Example of an Ineffective Fantasy Picture Book Premise

Johnny headed out into his backyard…

…only it turned into a swamp full of menacing alligators!

And this continues for the duration of fantasy picture books, until Johnny is safe and snug at last, back in the real world.

Now, there’s nothing wrong with this type of story. In fact, my brilliant client Bethanie Murguia makes great use of a child’s active imagination in her upcoming picture book ZOE GETS READY, out from Scholastic in a few weeks. But books about imagination should include more substance than simply the fruits of a child’s fantasy playtime. Imagination is a sales hook and a universal element for picture books, but it shouldn’t be the only one.

Most of the stories I see have great whimsy–Johnny’s backyard may turn first into a swamp, then into an ancient Egyptian tomb, then into a spaceship–but that’s almost a problem. They tend to be too specific. One kid’s imagination played out. A character who, other than his big imagination, is not well-defined. And they tend to invite clichés in terms of illustration because you’re practically forcing your art talent to illustrate the imagined scenes as if they were illustrating the contents of thought bubbles, which is a tired old trope.

Other People’s Dreams Are Not Interesting

This is basically how I like to explain my problem with these fantasy picture books: Other people’s dreams are not interesting. Imagine your best friend calling you up one morning and telling you about this crazy, whimsical dream she had. It’s full of crazy adventures and really specific fantastical creatures and it is a thrill ride…for her. I find my own dreams interesting, but that’s because they’re specific to me. I am not nearly as captivated by a purely imaginative thrill ride through another person’s subconscious. If that’s all there is, then I’m less likely to be interested.

Now, it’s not like you can’t have books about imagination that center around flights of fancy. We’d lose brilliant books like WHERE THE WILD THINGS ARE if that were the case. But there need to be other layers in play, and an actual story within the imagined landscape, not just an episodic barrage of images or crazy adventures. Characters need to be fleshed out. A plot needs to be in motion, with sequential events that go from conflict to climax. Other book themes and universal childhood experiences need to be embedded within the fantasy picture book. (If you’re just starting out, follow the link for a primer on how to write a children’s picture book.)

For this reason, books about imagination are a tougher row to hoe than most. Just like A Day in the Life picture books, that follow a kid from morning to bedtime and showcase the family, pets, and favorite toys. Neither has an inherent plot and, in this market, that’s a losing proposition. Look at your fantasy picture books objectively and see if it suffers from this colorful–but nonetheless problematic–issue.

ETA: Wendy’s comment, below, is particularly astute. And a lot more succinct than this blog post. Go read that instead! 🙂

Let’s dig into your own fantasy picture book project. Hire me as your picture book editor and get advice customized to your manuscript.

Crafting The Character Obstacle Into An Effective Plot Device

I’ve been thinking a lot about the effective plot device, especially as it relates to character obstacles. What kinds of things should your character butt up against in the pursuit of their objective? What kinds of plot points make for less-than-stellar hurdles to jump over? Well, if your reader is meant to be emotionally invested in your protagonist’s journey to the climax of the story, they will need to struggle (read about chosen one narratives here). A lot. They will need to pursue a very important goal and get shot down as often as possible. In fact, the only time they should really succeed is during the climactic action of the novel (or picture book, though obviously goals, obstacles, and attempts at achieving the objective are appropriately scaled down, and the failures aren’t as catastrophic).

plot point, plot device
“Can’t” is a four-letter word, both for characters and for writers. There’s always a way out for the motivated character/writer. Advice for finding the right plot device to use.

Plot Point No-No: “I Can’t”

Whether your plot problems are smaller frustrations or major roadblocks, some things just don’t work. One plot device that’s a definite no-no is the internal obstacle of “I can’t.” “Can’t” is a four-letter word in fiction, when uttered by both character and writer. When a character says “I can’t,” my first instinct is to ask, “Why not?” Sometimes it’s valid. In ALCHEMY AND MEGGY SWANN by Karen Cushman, Meggy’s legs are maimed. When she says she can’t go up stairs, I believe her. Or if your worldbuilding dictates that characters can’t fly, it’s good that you’re keeping it consistent. But when a character flat-out refuses to do something, there must be a real reason behind it (like a fear of heights precluding them from climbing the Eiffel Tower that has been established in the book for a long time as crucially important), or the plot device will feel flimsy. It’s one thing for a character to say they can’t. Writers often stop there. But if the reader is to understand their position, there should be real motivation there, or it’s a nonstarter.

Can’t Or Don’t Wanna?

On a side note, it really irks me on a logical level when writers say “can’t.” This often happens when I give them food for thought during a critique and they have the knee-jerk reaction of, “Oh, that would take too much revision and I simply can’t.” Why not? You are making everything up. If the way you’ve made something up precludes you from trying something new, simply dream your way out of the old rules and come up with another framework. “Can’t” has no place in fiction. (I often hear it for what it most likely is: “Don’t wanna.”)

There Should Always Be Other Avenues To Reach The Objective

Another flimsy character plot device is one that depends entirely on another character’s will. This is often a true non-starter. If your plot point is riding on your character borrowing their big brother’s car, and they ask their brother, and the brother says, “No,” well…you’re SOL, aren’t you? You’re at an impasse. There should always be other avenues to reach the objective, other actions your character can play, etc. Plus, it’s frustrating to read a situation when the other character’s refusal seems arbitrary. Just like with “can’t,” if I feel like they could easily change their minds, then I’m not buying it as a plot device that represents a true character obstacle (read tips on writing believable characters).

So just like your characters, objectives, and motivations, a plot device that throws a monkey wrench in your story should be more dynamic.

When you hire my book editing services, I’ll help you craft realistic character obstacles that strengthen your story.

Immortality in Fiction and Writing Immortal Characters

“The Problem With Immortality in Fiction” doesn’t seem like a very real headline. The problem with immortality? What problem with immortality? I know that I, for one, would love to be immortal. *bares neck for any vampires that might happen by* But writing immortal characters has a few pitfalls. Read on.

immortality in fiction, writing immortal characters
Calling all vampires: This neck is available. Kthnx.

But immortality in fiction is a huge problem for stakes. If your characters are immortal, they can’t die, and therefore one of the worst things that could befall someone is out of the question. When your characters are immortal, stakes plummet.

High Stakes Situations are Difficult to Write

The same goes for scenarios that are larger than life. It’s very hard to wrap one’s mind around a global apocalypse, when you really think about it. Think about those charity ads for starving children. If we hear the same mind-numbing statistic of “XX million children are starving in the world,” it’s almost too much to process. And it doesn’t stir our hearts for long. But those ad campaigns that highlight a particular child in a particular place and tell us their story, those are the ones that engage us into putting a specific face on world poverty and hunger.

So if you have an immortal character running around screaming, “The world’s going to end! Gaaah!”…I don’t know if you’re going to get the kind of reader-hooking reaction you want. The stakes you say are present (death/end of the world) are too big, and therefore they start to mean nothing, after all.

How to Make High Stakes Believable, Even With Immortality in Fiction

Let’s say you are writing a story about an immortal character or the end of the world. Should you put down the quill and sulk because it’s hopeless? No. The trick is to build in a framework of things (probably people) that your character cares about more than life itself, and put them in very real and immediate danger that is much smaller, more menacing, and more specific than some malformed looming apocalypse (Advice on raising the stakes).

Through your character’s relationships to these people and their willingness to risk all for what they really care about, we will start to get invested in their story. After all, immortality is one thing, and it’s pretty boring, turns out. But the event that threatens to make immortality shallow and meaningless for your character? That’s what I’m interested in. And an apocalypse isn’t scary to me because it’s too huge. But the thing your character can’t bear to leave undone before the world grinds to a halt? That’s what I want to see.

Writers keep hearing advice to up the stakes, but it is possible to make your stakes too high and impossible to care about. If that’s the problem you’re battling, give your characters other more immediate things to despair over.

Struggling with building believable stakes and tension. Hire me as your fiction editor and we can make sure your novel hits the right emotional notes to pull readers in.

Pacing Your Exposition in Writing

This commentary on exposition pacing in writing is something that I’ve started saying at each conference I attend. For those of you who’ve heard it in person or during a critique, I apologize for being redundant. But listen to it anyway because it’s important:

I believe that all writing is a balance of action and information.

exposition in writing, pacing in writing
You don’t want too much action OR exposition in writing. Balance both elements to maintain fluid pacing throughout.

Stories Need Both Action and Exposition in Writing

Imagine scales in your head. On one end is action: what keeps plot driving forward and teaches us about character as our fictional people advance through the present moments of the story. On the other end is information: what gives us context about the fictional world and also fleshes out the characters we’ve created with need-to-know tidbits that exist outside the present moment. Balancing these elements is what allows you to maintain fluid pacing in writing.

An Example of Too Much Action, Not Enough Exposition

You need both action and exposition pacing in writing. Both need to be in balance so that a story can continue. The biggest place where this matters is in a novel’s beginning. Imagine you are trying to read a dystopian that’s in a completely other world–you open the book and it’s strange, you don’t know much about it. Worse, your main character has been whacked in the head before the start of the story and is just groggily waking up. She doesn’t remember who she is or where she is. When she does come to, she realizes she’s in an underground maze, being chased by…something. Whatever it is, it has sharp teeth, it reeks of death, and it’s after her. She doesn’t have anything to defend herself with, so she must start running.

We open immediately to action. It’s great. There’s danger, the stakes are high, her life hangs in the balance. But is this a compelling beginning for fiction? I’d argue that it isn’t, really. Because we have breakneck pacing in writing, but that’s all we have. We don’t know anything about this world in which people get clubbed on the head and maze monsters seem to be just a regular part of life. We don’t know anything about this character because she’s recently suffered a head injury and doesn’t know enough to tell us herself. The stakes here are high, yes, but generic “life and death” versus specific. Since we don’t know the world or the character, we don’t know exactly what’s at risk (other than some random broad’s life) or why we should care. This beginning has too much action and not enough information so it fails to ground the reader and provide a foothold for us to access the story. (Check out my post on how to start your novel for more info.)

An Example of Too Much Exposition, Not Enough Action

On the other end of the scale is information, or exposition in writing. It’s great to have because, once we know stuff (and, ideally, we pick it up through showing, not telling), we care. It’s not enough to know that there are millions of children starving in the world. Those charity commercials tug at our heartstrings because they show us one child, tell us one story, and they make the problem concrete enough and specific enough that we start to care. But you can go overboard on exposition, too.

Let’s say I open another book. It’s a character who is sitting in their room the night before the first day of school, thinking about his crappy life. He has no friends, his parents are too strict (and definitely uncool) and his sister is a brat. He looks over at his closet, where he’s hidden his skateboard — it causes him even more pain that he hurt his knee over the summer and hasn’t been able to get to the skate park, further alienating himself. He looks around at his clothes, hoping they’re cool enough, and at the rock posters on the walls, grumbling that his favorite bands never come through to tour in his small, miserable town. He thinks for a while about how much he loves his dog, and maybe about the girl that he has a crush on that he’s never spoken to.

What’s wrong with this picture? Let me ask you, instead: What has happened so far? Nothing. A kid is sitting and thinking. It’s a completely static beginning with no action. The pacing in writing is crawling along at a snail’s pace. Sure, we learn a lot about his life, but it is all telling, no showing. We care less about the girl he loves because we’ve never seen her reject him in scene. We know he is upset about skateboarding but we are not emotionally invested until we see him limp out of the half-pipe after a failed trick. And do we really need to know about the family pet or the sister right now? I’m guessing not.

Always Avoid the Info Dump

You have all this great information in your head about your character or your world, but you can never dump it all on your reader (an “info-dump”) at once, especially when you’re beginning a novel. Exposition must emerge organically, usually in the context of action. When we meet the dream girl, it’s okay to have him think about how long he’s been in love with her. That’s information. But then, Home Skillet must march on over there and get his heart crushed. That’s action. Like this, the two work very well together. Too much of either one, and your pacing gets all off, characterization starts to feel flat, and your reader’s emotional investment in the story starts to drag.

This doesn’t just happen in the beginning of your work, either. The balance of action and exposition in order to achieve fluid pacing in writing is something you must always be vigilant about. I love this additional way of thinking about the fiction craft and I hope you do, too.

Get actionable, personalized, one-on-one novel advice if you hire me as your developmental editor. We can work on your query, your novel beginning, or the entire manuscript.

Describing Actions: Play by Play Narration

It’s time to get back to business with a craft-related post about writing description and describing actions. I’ve been reading some manuscripts where the writers lapse into what I always call “play-by-play narration.” It’s the narrative equivalent of a chronological grocery list of events:

First we did this. Then we did that. He did this, and then he did that. After that, we did this. And then, that. A little bit later, we went and did such and such.

describing actions
Lists are great for keeping your life organized — not so much for writing description.

Plot is More Than Transcription

When you’re writing descriptions, it’s not just your job to transcribe what you imagine happens in a character’s day and think that you have yourself a plot. That’s not how it works. A large part of narration and storytelling is acting as a curator of the story. You’re supposed to maximize what’s important and minimize what’s not and keep directing your reader’s attention from paragraph to paragraph and page to page. When you’re filling up your pages with play-by-play narration, you’re describing actions that aren’t essential to the plot:

Anna went into the kitchen. She opened up the refrigerator and got out some mayonnaise, some mustard, and a head of lettuce from the crisper. The tomatoes and white bread were already on the counter. She got out two slices of bread and put them on a dinner plate, then spread one slice with the mayonnaise, the other with the mustard. Halfway through making her sandwich, she realized she’s forgotten the cheese and sliced deli meat in the fridge. Huffing to herself and blowing her bangs out of her eyes, she turned on a heel and headed back to get the rest of her fixins.

Describing Actions: Compress and Move On

Or, you know, you could just say, “Anna made a sandwich” and then move on to describing actions that actually matter to your plot. If it’s not important, it doesn’t need to be described in such painstaking detail. You only have about 300 pages to work with in the average novel. Don’t waste any time writing actions that aren’t important. If you need your characters to do something inconsequential, just sum it up in compressed narration, as I did in the first sentence of this paragraph.

Mirroring the Patterns of Our Lives

How do writers get stuck in this pattern of writing description that’s unnecessary? When you don’t know better, there’s a tendency towards describing actions that take the reader through a character’s day from dawn (probably why so many manuscripts start with a character waking up– check out dreams in fiction) to dusk. Why? Because that’s the pattern we’ve followed every day of our lives. Our days go this familiar route, so we send our characters through the same paces. This is a trap, and it makes for deadly dull reading. Break your characters out of play-by-play narration and get them moving on to the next plot point in your story. (Show, don’t tell, anyone?) We don’t really care how Anna makes her sandwich. In fact, we don’t really need to read about her eating at all. The same goes with her bathroom routine, her shower, her picking out clothes, her driving to school, etc.

If you feel like you may be guilty of giving your readers the “play-by-play,” ask yourself about the actions you’re describing. Are they absolutely essential information for your reader? Do they factor into your plot? If not, maybe cut those passages and refocus on action that does move the story forward.

Are you striving for tighter, cleaner prose? When you invest in my manuscript editing services, I’ll point out instances of play-by-play narration that you can compress or trim from your work.

Copyright © Mary Kole at Kidlit.com