Don’t Detail Every Movement Your Story Characters Make

image by rawpixel

Try this exercise and see if you can improve the example below that over details the movements of the characters. You’ll replace movements with fewer words or delete them. Have fun.

First, read the detailed paragraph.

The Passage Loaded With Details

Dan gripped the handles of the wheelbarrow full of seedlings, lifted them up, and pushed the wheelbarrow to the straw bale garden. Katherine plodded her feet behind him carrying a trowel in her left hand, wire cutters in her right hand, and a box of seed packets under one arm. They would plant in an hour what most farmers planted in a day. He’d prove to the local farmers he wasn’t crazy.

Katherine pinched the hook on the door between her thumb and forefinger and pulled it out of the eye on the jamb of their fenced enclosure. Once inside, they reached for their seedlings from the wheelbarrow and the seed packets from the box and set them at the base of the forty fertilized bales according to Dan’s planting diagram.

As Joe Brown passed in his truck, he shifted down the gears, stuck his arm out the window, and flapped his hand. “You think those hay bales will grow anything, Dan?”

Dan lifted his torso until his back was vertical. “Straw bales, Joe. Hay bales won’t work.”

Joe raised his thumb on his fist and his chin moved up and down as he laughed and drove on.

Dan poured a thin layer of potting mix from the bag onto the tops of the bales for the seeds and smoothed it out with his gloved hand. “We’ll never live this endeavor down if the seeds don’t sprout and the seedlings don’t bear vegetables.”

Problem Movements

Next, see what you can do with the following movements to make the excerpt more concise.

  • getting the wheelbarrow to the garden
  • Katherine’s walking
  • carrying items
  • opening the garden door
  • putting the seedlings and packets at the base of bales
  • slowing the truck
  • Joe waving
  • Dan straightening
  • Joe performing a thumbs up
  • Joe laughing
  • getting the potting mix on the bales

An Improved Passage

Dan maneuvered the wheelbarrow full of potted seedlings to the straw bale garden. Katherine strode behind him armed with a trowel, wire cutters, and a box of seed packets. They would plant in an hour what most farmers planted in a day. He’d prove to the local farmers he wasn’t crazy.

Katherine unhooked the door to their fenced enclosure. Once inside, they placed their seedlings and seed packets at the base of the forty fertilized bales according to Dan’s planting diagram.

As Joe Brown passed, he slowed his truck and waved. “You think those hay bales will grow anything, Dan?”

Dan straightened. “Straw bales, Joe. Hay bales won’t work.”

Joe gave him a thumbs up and guffawed as he drove on.

Dan spread a thin layer of potting mix on the tops of the bales to be seeded. “We’ll never live this endeavor down if the seeds don’t sprout and the seedlings don’t bear vegetables.”

A short exercise to make characters’ movements concise. Click to tweet.

I invite you to include your rewrite in the comments.

Amazon Link

Amanda Larrowe’s lack of trust sabotages her relationships. The English teacher and award-winning author of middle-grade adventure books for boys has shut off communication with friends and family to meet her January 2 book deadline. Now, in the deepest snow accumulation Richmond, Virginia has experienced in years, Camden Lancaster moves in across the street. After ten years, her heart still smarts from the humiliating aftermath of their perfect high school Valentine’s Day date. He may have transformed into a handsome, amiable man, but his likeability doesn’t instill trust in Amanda’s heart. When Cam doesn’t recognize her on their first two encounters, she thinks it’s safe to be his fair-weather neighbor. Boy is she wrong.

Make a Splash in Your Story With These “Little” Things

“If you can take a little slice of the world and a little piece of dirt and really focus on details, you can drive large, seemingly spectacular movements.” —David Baldacci (Writer’s Digest November/December 2015)

image by inspired images
image by inspired images

Note the quote from David Baldacci above. It’s from his interview, “Absolute Writer,” by Jessica Strawser.

Baldacci’s quote from the interview says I can do four things:

  • “take a little slice of the world and ”
  • “a little piece of dirt and”
  • “really focus on details”
  • and “drive … spectacular movements”

I think this could work on novels, scenes, or short stories.

As an exploratory example, I’ll apply Baldacci’s advice, as I perceive it, to the short story, I’m working on, a Christmas romance.

My slice of the world is the road to marriage. I see these subparts:

  1. the dreams of the perfect love,
  2. the cute-meet (movie term),
  3. the getting-to-know-you,
  4. the wariness of less than perfect,
  5. the acceptance of less than perfect,
  6. the embracing of less than perfect,
  7. the desire to become one, and
  8. the commitment to the union.
image by zulubo
image by zulubo

My story needs to be a “little slice.” So my slice will cover the hero and heroine’s amusing meeting to their realization they prefer the less perfect person more than the perfect one of their dreams (subparts 2-5).

 

My “little piece of dirt” is:

  • A neighborhood,
  • where movement is limited by a dumping of snow,
  • where most scenes happen in the hero’s and the heroine’s houses,
  • where only three other characters make brief appearances (two by phone) to move the story along.

 

image by srose
image by srose

Keeping their story in the neighborhood and limiting the number of characters, allows me to concentrate on the play between the hero and heroine.

 

 

 

 

The details I’ll “really focus on” are in:

  • hitting home the theme,
  • creating believable and unique characters, and
  • writing unpredictable plot points.

Baldacci says that while we’re showing the details, we need to trick, distract, and deflect the reader’s attention to keep the story unpredictable and to move the action forward. This will be my challenge.

Driving my “spectacular movements.”

  • I interpret that as: at the end, the reader needs to feel like cheering and/or changing.

Focus on details & limit world, setting, characters to write an amazing story. Click to tweet.

How have you used the idea, “little,” to make a splash in your story?