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To omit or not to omit: he walked/stepped/made his way to... (1 Viewer)

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Olivia Brine

Senior Member
How important is it to show movement? In particular, explaining how a character gets from point A. to point B. In my story, there's a lot of traveling, so I feel like I'm constantly saying, "He walked/He stepped/ He made his way..." Should I be omitting those? I have them over eighty times in just the first 30k words and it seems excessive. But I'm not sure how else to convey that my character is going somewhere...
 

JBF

Staff member
Global Moderator
Depends on the story you want to tell. If the point is the destination, it's fine to gloss over the mechanics of getting there. Show them getting in the car/train carriage/spaceship/whatever and open the next paragraph with the character in their new setting.

If not, more detail may be warranted.

A while back I had one that entailed my primary MC being summoned halfway across the state to help a stranded friend. It ran twenty pages or so and focused more on the drive itself than the cause. The purpose there wasn't so much to move said character from Point A to Point B as to flesh him out and show elements of the protag's personality when confronted with unexpected obstacles on an unplanned journey, capped off with the realization that sometimes people see what they want regardless what's really in front of them.

If you're worried about a smaller and more closed scene, cut movement where possible. If the character is in the living room and wants an orange from a bowl on the kitchen table there's no particular reason to depict the movement; establish that the character is on the living room couch and the bowl is in the kitchen, and when you tell us they went to get an orange we put together that they left the living room, went into the kitchen, and returned.
 

vranger

Staff member
Supervisor
In addition to JBF's good advice, I'll add that it can be a matter of pacing. If you want a slower, more deliberate scene, adding small movements will contribute to that.

Also, some movement may contribute to continuity. For example, I wrote a scene last night where a brother and a sister get a sandwich in the kitchen. The brother suggests they take them to the den. I didn't write the movement to the den, but had them sit on opposite ends of a couch. Later, the sister decides to turn off the TV, which the brother has turned on and presumably has the remote control by him. So I have the sister get up, step over, and pick up the remote, rather than suggesting she might have somehow stretched and reached across the brother to get it. In this case, it not only made practical sense to show the movement, but it also contributed to the pacing I wanted for that part of the scene.

There is no rule or quota here. It's one of the things authors have to develop a feel for, and it becomes an element of their own style.
 

apocalypsegal

Senior Member
One trick is to have a scene break where you'd be talking about the moving around. So, when the brother and sister in the one example made a sandwich, rather than showing them walking to the living room to watch TV, sitting down, settling the food around them, and so on, just have them arguing over the remote in the next scene.

In general, you want to eliminate the boring stuff. Some famous writer said that. ;) So, going to the bathroom, getting dressed, making breakfast, doing the usual work commute... All that just needs to be mentioned and then move on, unless there's something that's going to develop the character, or advance the plot.
 

vranger

Staff member
Supervisor
For context, here's a snippet of the scene I mentioned:

Hope opened the fridge and got out two bottles.

“Coke for me. I already had a beer and a half at Jakes.”

“Yeah, I heard about that, too.”

Hope chucked, and couldn’t help it, just like Jake. Even Cal smiled about it now. She clanked the bottle back against its fellows and pulled out a plastic bottle, twisted off the cap, and handed it over.

“Thanks. Let’s sit in the den.”

They plopped down into opposite corners of Cal’s overstuffed leather couch, and he turned on the TV and started a movie. It was an action flick, and Hope could see Cal wasn’t really paying attention to it. She got up, stepped over, took the remote, and killed the TV.

“What …?”

“You’re not watching it, and I was only watching you not watching it. How can I help?”

“Everybody wants to help.” Cal’s tone was sarcastic.

“I can’t help that, and I probably can’t help you write a song. But I can try.”
The event that amused them happened earlier in the chapter. Note the obligatory nod to a piece of overstuffed furniture. It will be my first and last reference of the type in that novel. ;-)

I just finished Sue Grafton's first book. She's very determined to include inconsequential details of movement and schedule. It's first person, and the main character must have listed her breakfast plate four times. All four breakfasts were similar. There were other activity detail sequences. Teeth brushing. Activity in her car on stake out. Walking from the office to the motel room. None of this mattered to the plot, nor was it in any way fascinating. It did contribute to pacing. She didn't want to rush from one important event to the next. I think she went a bit overboard with it, personally. It was her first novel, and she had room for improvement. But it wasn't enough to keep the book from seeing print and starting a successful career.

"Eliminate the boring stuff" is an interesting thought process. I've found boring stuff in virtually every book I've ever read. Another reader will like what bored me, and think something else was boring. Some boring stuff is OK as long as it doesn't dominate. Sometimes boring stuff helps establish mood, character, and scene. If readers are interested in the story, a bit of boring stuff here and there is inconsequential.

The other side of boring is having a character being bored. It's a staple of fiction. A beta reader (an aspiring writer himself) of my first novel proclaimed to me I must NEVER discuss my characters being bored, so I stopped doing beta reads. ;-) That was nonsense. Juxtaposition of inaction with an interesting or surprising development is a powerful tool.
 

Lawless

Senior Member
How important is it to show movement? In particular, explaining how a character gets from point A. to point B.

Omit it, read it a week later and see if it sounds weird.

I generally try to avoid describing movement, because I've noticed I have the tendency to do it too much.

However, recently I re-read something I had written. The people were in A planning (eventually) to travel to B.

I read the paragraph where they were doing things in A. When I read the next paragraph describing something they were doing in B, I stopped for a moment in confusion: "Wait, they're in B already?"

This reaction of mine shows that there was something wrong. I had to add something between those two paragraphs, to tell the reader the characters actually left A and headed for B.

Often enough it's not necessary. But this time it evidently was.
 

Non Serviam

WF Veterans
Explaining how a character gets from A to B is unimportant: you don't need to say Claire walked home to her husband.

But explaining how a character gets from A to B is important. You do need to say Claire rushed home to her husband, or Claire trudged home to her husband, or Claire sauntered home to her husband. In other words, what you need to show us is the emotion in the motion.

Journeys in fiction are usually metaphorical or symbolic as well as literal:- the protagonist's physical journey is an allegory for their mental or spiritual journey. It's the latter that you should emphasize.
 

Olivia Brine

Senior Member
Explaining how a character gets from A to B is unimportant: you don't need to say Claire walked home to her husband.

But explaining how a character gets from A to B is important. You do need to say Claire rushed home to her husband, or Claire trudged home to her husband, or Claire sauntered home to her husband. In other words, what you need to show us is the emotion in the motion.

Journeys in fiction are usually metaphorical or symbolic as well as literal:- the protagonist's physical journey is an allegory for their mental or spiritual journey. It's the latter that you should emphasize.
This is the best advice I could've gotten and is the piece in my writing that I've been missing. Thank you!
 

vranger

Staff member
Supervisor
This is the best advice I could've gotten and is the piece in my writing that I've been missing. Thank you!
Plus, if it's two pieces of major separate action, you can simply put a scene break between the two paragraphs. That's often all it takes.

Joe's mouth dropped open after his precinct Captain finished.

"I just finished my shift, and you want me to take the overnight stakeout?"

"You're the only one who's personally seen Machine Gun Gus's face. You'll know him instantly if he shows up. The rest of the guys would have to guess from the artist's drawing."

Joe scuffed a shoe on the floor. He knew the Captain had it right, but he didn't have to be happy about it. The look of shock turned into a guilty grimace, followed by a big sigh.

"Can I at least get something to eat before I show up at the stakeout?"

"Of course."

***

Joe stood at the rented motel room's window, binoculars at his eyes. etc.
 
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