Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Cut It Out!

Ever wonder why you don't see characters paying their bills?
Because it's boring!

I know that because I do that. I pay the bills. And it's boring.

Unless paying the bills has something to do with the plot, it's probably best to leave it out. Don't put in boring, mundane tasks just to increase the word count. When you’re editing, stop and ask yourself if what the character is doing is interesting, moves the plot forward, establishes the character, or in some way greatly contributes to the manuscript.

If it doesn't meet one of those criteria, seriously think about cutting it. Or try to think of some way the character could pay the bills that would make it more interesting or show his/her character in a unique way.

If your goal is to demonstrate that the character is in reality boring, then come up with a way to show it so that while the task may be mundane, your way of telling it is not.

Part of your editing process should be to cut the boring stuff. If it's really not necessary for the reader to see it, then cut it. That includes a lot of walking from the house to the car. Or listing each step a character takes to get dressed in the morning, from what he puts on to the order in which he puts things on. Certainly includes the fifteen times in the book your character picks up the phone and says, "Hello." The reader will assume that she didn’t fly from her car to the living room; he didn’t leave the house naked; and he doesn’t pick up the phone and hold it to his ear without speaking. Cut out the introductions, get to the meat of the conversation or encounter. Your protagonist doesn't have to feed the cat every time he comes into the house in order for the reader to know he has a cat and he's responsible in the way he cares for it.

Cut the boring so you won't bore your readers. And so your editor won’t end up sniffling in a corner, drawing on the back of her hand with a red pen.
Helen Ginger is a freelance editor and book consultant, with an informational and interactive blog for writers and a free weekly e-newsletter that has gone out to subscribers around the globe for ten years. She coaches writers on the publishing industry, finding an agent, and polishing their work for publication. You can also follow her on Twitter.

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  1. It's brutal but must be done. Thanks.

  2. It does hurt. The good news is you can save all your trimmings in a file. You never know when you might need to pull something out of the file, rework it and use it.

  3. I like your posts Helen. They always seem to make perfect sense. Thanks for this one. I will certainly remember it when I write my next story.
    Blessings, Star

  4. Good advice, though at times, it is easier said than done. I very seldom use the 'trimmings' which is a good sign that the scene needed to go away. However, I agree it is a good idea to keep them.

    Jane Kennedy Sutton

  5. Your posts are always packed with excellent advice, Helen! I especially love your example of paying your bills - not being able to pay the bills is potential for a good story. Otherwise, not so much.

  6. There are times when the mundane can be important. While paying the bills, a wife finds a questionable charge by the husband. While taking out the trash, a guy is shot or witnesses something happening. On the other hand, if it's just filler, cut it.

    Thank you Kwana, Star, Jane and Jesaka for stopping by and sharing your own advice.

  7. Some smart instructions here. Methinks I might still be guilty of some of this. :( I'm working on one of my manuscripts tonight - gonna check & see how many times Detective Snoop picks up the phone and says, "Hello." (smile)

    Good post.

  8. Excellent advice Helen. As a reader I don't want to read about what I do in my "real" life. I want my fantasy time to be much more exciting!

  9. Good advice, Helen. I recently had an editor tell me that I should show my character getting out of his car and walking to the door. I had not put that in the story as I thought it was one of those boring moments you mentioned here. I also figured the readers would be smart enough to know that he exited the car prior to getting to the front door. There was also a natural pause in the narrative there as he had been thinking about what he was going to say when the door opened.

  10. On the flip side, proper pacing requires some "mundane moments." A problem I see frequently in submissions I receive are tales that race from one roadblock to the next, as though the author is so afraid to bore the reader that they rush full bore into the telling. Done this way, one never gets to truly settle into the world and know the character. It loses rhythm and richness.

    Understanding how and when to use "mundanes" to structure a story is a tough concept to explain. A well done example is Stephen King's DARK TOWER series. It's a huge saga with plenty of "downtime" where the questing characters sit around a campfire, eat, or perform mundane tasks. Yet each moment serves the story, either adjusting the pace, revealing the character, or advancing the plot.

    So don't be too hard on mundane moments--just learn to use them to proper advantage. Stories canl be enhanced, rather than bogged down by it.


  11. I knew it! The really smart people read this blog. And, luckily, they share their smarts. Thanks.

  12. I kind of agree with Lisa. A bit of boredom helps us relate to the character, and it works like open areas in a painting - gives us a place to rest for a moment. You just can't let it go on too long or you'll beyond resting to fast asleep!

    Good post, Hel. And now I'm going to go sign in and wade through word verification again, because I can't get rid of it. Rest of you have this issue too?


  13. Excellent advice. Thank you :)

  14. I like to keep a story moving. I have 11 murders in my first novel Breakthrough. Lots of stuff happening. But I think its a good idea to slow down and allow the reader to catch their breath.

    For example, one day the protagonist Chase is walking along Dana Point Harbor drinking a cup of coffee and looking at the clever and imaginative names people name their boats. He's also watching the sun set.

    Too much action is not a good thing unless balanced with character buildup and a smattering here and there of the boring stuff.


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