For example, we note the minutiae that need to be cut. And we note when the small details are not actually minutiae, but important stuff that has to be left in.
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 last week. 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.
If a book character gets locked out of the house, something would need to happen, like she’d hear the phone ringing and someone leaving a threatening message, but she couldn’t see caller ID … or a wild-eyed woman would appear from the back of the house, gun in hand. If a book character goes for a walk and gets lost, she’d have to be stalked, or kidnapped, or fall off a cliff or lose her memory. Or perhaps 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.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 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?
Her car shuddered as it pulled from the curb.
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.
Helen Ginger is a freelance editor and writer. She talks more about "Happening Scenes" today on Straight From Hel. You can visit her website and blog, follow her on Twitter, or join her newsletter, Doing It Write.