A Million Things

A million things make up our days. From the moment we wake up to the moment we go to bed and even during our sleep, little things happen. They happen around us and in our heads.

Those things make up the basics of our everyday life; sometimes they’re mundane like clipping toenails to the fantastic like going for a hot air balloon ride. Daily events can be predictable like how long it takes for the bread to toast all the way to unpredictable such as parking on the side of the road and dropping your car keys down a sewer drain.

When I’m writing I tend to shuffle the predictable moment to a generalization in the story. Using mundane every-day tasks in storytelling to show something about a character is… boring.

Exhausted, Amber picked up her toothbrush, applied the toothpaste in a modest amount. She dipped the bristles and paste under the water and raised it to her mouth with a grimace. Slowly in circles, as she was taught, she meticulously cleaned her teeth. The minty taste causing a frown as it always did. With all her teeth scrubbed and clean she spit out the foam into the sink. Grabbing her cup she took a mouthful of water and sloshed it about rinsing out the offensive mint paste.

Using a predictable moment like this, one that is done daily by everyone is boring. It is a terrible way to convey that amber is hygienic and hates mint flavor. It can be assumed that someone would be brushing their teeth daily. The only time to mention this is briefly or in an opposite way that makes the moment more memorable.

Exhausted, Amber applied the toothpaste to her toothbrush and grimaced as she prepared for the disgusting mint flavor. It was all wrong; the fragrance of the mint was too strong and it tasted bitter, not sweet. Her eyes flew open wide as She looked quickly to the tube in her hand realizing she just put A535 in her mouth. 

While still a mundane moment it wasn’t as boring to read because something unusual happened. Unpredictable things make life interesting. Therefore they make stories more interesting.

If I find a chapter is dragging on or isn’t quite right I’ll look for the mundane everyday crap that I’ve plunked in as filler. I’ll decide if it needs to be removed or if I can at least make it more interesting to read. Usually, it can be taken out unless it’s a foreshadow for something important later on or if it’s genuinely needed for character establishment.

If I find a chapter is mostly mundane I might even just slash it all out and sum it up in conversation.

Amber sat heavily in her desk chair.
“You look tired,” Dale asked peeking around the divider.
“Ugh. I used A535 on my toothbrush last night and to top it off the freaking mint smell kept me up all night.” She scowled at Dale as he snickered behind his hand. “It’s not funny.”
“Totally is. Did ”
Dale started laughing, her frown turned into pursed lips before she laughed along. He had a way of making her feel better. 

My point is that I try to hunt out these drab moments where I might use hair brushing to describe characters physical features or an everyday action to make a point. Leaving a paragraph or chapter of boring everyday happenings might turn the reader off and might make me look lazy as a writer.  I take my revision process to add in foreshadows for later and adding tidbits to boring moments is a great way to do that.

My advice about ordinary moments.
Try to find them and either take them out or spice them up. Try something startling, funny or dramatic. If it can foreshadow an event later, even better. 


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Mirror, mirror on the wall…

I have recently become aware of a type of cliche writing. Over used scenarios and set ups in writing.

When describing a persons appearance no writer, including myself wants to be dull, boring or give a marathon list of aesthetic traits as one would find on a manifest. So we try to get clever and look for ways to make it more real or feel more plausible to the reader.

One that I know I’m guilty of is the use of a mirror to describe a character. Whether in first person or third, this is a tired over used way to do this. Mirror descriptions are tricky because the perspective can go wrong real fast. In and out of the characters head we go. I’ve done this I’ll admit it. I wont anymore and you can bet I’ll be going back to remove this tired method.

Here is what its like in first to use a mirror.

I spat out the toothpaste into the sink and looked up at my reflection in the mirror. My dark brown eyes were lined and tired. My two day old stubble needed a shave and my bed head was out of control making my black hair disheveled.

And a better way in first without the mirror.

I spat out the toothpaste and wiped a dribble from my itchy stubble covered chin. I ran my hands through my messy black hair before splashing cold water on my face. I rubbed my tired dark brown eyes; it was going to be a long day.

Here is a short example of what using a mirror is like in third person.

Scott spit out the toothpaste and raised his head to look at his reflection in the mirror. His dark brown eyes were lined and tired. His black hair was mussed from sleep and he needed to shave his two days worth of beard growth. 

Here is a better way to describe the same features in third without a mirror.

Scott spat out the toothpaste and wiped a dribble from his itchy stubble covered chin. After running his hands through his messy black hair he splashed water over his, face and rubbed his dark brown eyes.

No matter how I look at it, removing the mirror made for better describing. As long as I work the features in with actions it’s way better than listing them off. And a lot less lazy IMO. I look to find better ways to describe anything without resorting to the classic, ‘he had black hair, as stubble covered chin and tired dark brown eyes.’  I think we can all do better than that.  After all we are offering our readers an invitation to take part in the story not read a recipe.

My advice about mirrors as a descriptive tool.
Who’s the fairest of them all? Tell me without listing what you see please. A bad writing habit we can break without the 7 years bad luck.


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Paint a desperate picture

Details, details, details

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