I’ve got to admit, the weather around here is really beginning to get on my nerves. In the past 60 days we have had the snow completely melt with temperature highs of 18 Celsius (68 Fahrenheit for those of you who care), only to have it turn around and drop copious amounts of the white stuff (4 – 16 inches) and get cold. It’s now done that 7 times. I like winter, but enough is enough.
And what do I do when the weather is like this? Naturally, I stay inside where it is warm and dry. I might get the fireplace going, make a cup of tea and sit back in my favorite chair reading a book.
Pretty exciting stuff, isn’t it? Well… maybe not so much.
Which leads me to my topic for the day. How far into the bland minutia of your characters’ lives do (or should) you delve? Do you write about what they do on rainy (or snowy) days? Do you visualize their meals to the tiniest detail or maybe describe each step of a journey?
Not unless you want to bore your readers to death.
Granted, there are reasons to talk about every detail of a room. Mystery novels might have clues hidden in the details that the detective will reveal later in the story. You might even bring that information to light to show how characters act in a certain situation. Perhaps the boredom is so great that someone begins to go insane or act erratically.
It could just be that you want the reader to understand the truly miserable circumstances the character is in.
Still, I think, there must be a very good reason to go there. You risk losing the reader’s interest if you go into too much tedious detail for no reason.
It’s a challenge for me to balance the detail when I’m trying to write a fantasy story. Fantasies, almost by definition, are quest stories. But do you want to show every single, tiring, dusty (or muddy) step of the way?
Of course not. You merely want to reveal the important bits. The long nights by the fire or standing watch just aren’t that interesting. It might make sense to setup a typical night once and then refer to it later… or it might not. It all depends on if there is a good reason for doing so.
So how do you cut out the dull bits?
With great difficulty sometimes. You don’t want to skip too much or the story begins to get disjointed (weren’t the characters just in a city? Now they’re out in the middle of a desert. How did that happen?). And you need to respect the fact that no one can go on with conflict after conflict indefinitely. Exciting, maybe, but pretty improbable.
And then there’s the question of words. Most writer’s agree that putting words in a story for the mere sake of buffing up the actual word count is a cardinal sin. If anything, you as the writer should be frugal with words; only put down what matters and develops the story. Talking about how Samwise skinned and cooked a wild hare on a spit over a fire doesn’t necessarily do that. Neither does describing the 4 hours of shopping Millicent spent to find a pair of shoes.
A few rules that I generally follow are: (1) if it doesn’t add to or forward the story along, it goes, (2) if it’s boring or tedious, but adds important information, it stays (but might be tightened up to reduce the pain of reading it, (3) it’s OK to skip days and even weeks if you properly explain why it happens (a 6 month sea voyage might fit in a few sentences if nothing exciting happens or if it’s just a mechanism to go from A to B).
Pretty simple right? Well, I never said I was a complicated guy.
So let me describe my feelings about snow in the smallest number of words I can… Blah!
Yup, that pretty much covers it.