Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Real Life Does Not Make an Interesting Book

Even if you’re writing a memoir, a person’s everyday life does not make for an interesting book. Let’s face it, our daily lives are boring. Even when something different happens, it’s boring.

I got locked out of the house today. So what? I unloaded the groceries, put the refrigerator and freezer stuff in the freezer, then headed to Starbucks for coffee. I talked to a friend of mine who recently went for a walk and got lost. Totally lost. Completely turned around. By the time she got back home, she’d been out trying to find her way for five and a half hours. I call that an adventure. But to put it in a book, there’d have to be more than just her walking, going in circles, for hours.

She would have to be stalked, or kidnapped, or fall off a cliff or lose her memory. I’d have to hear the phone ringing and someone leaving a threatening message, but I can’t see caller ID, or a wild-eyed woman would appear from the back of the house, gun in hand. Or my friend would encounter a handsome stranger. Or whatever.

Not only does every scene have to have purpose and move the story forward, you have to cut the mundane wherever possible as long as it’s not relevant. You could write:

Stephanie grabbed the keys from the bowl on the entry table, then took one last look around.
Her car shuddered as it pulled from the curb.

If we don’t really need to know what happened in-between those two things, then don’t tell us. Do we need to know that she slung her purse over her right shoulder, swiveled and walked to the door? Closed the door behind her? Crossed the porch? Walked down the four steps to the sidewalk? Walked to the car? Opened the driver-side door? Inserted the key into the ignition? Adjusted the mirror?

Have you ever noticed that very few characters go to the bathroom? Because no one wants or needs to know. It’s rarely important to the story. I’m not saying cut all the minutiae. Sometimes details can be very telling. Sometimes you can hide important clues among a list of unimportant things. But everything is not always important.

If your character gets locked out of the house, have something interesting happen. If your character gets lost, make it worth reading.

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