I grabbed my keys off the counter and strode through the door to my car, where I opened the door, settled in the front seat and strapped the belt across me before pushing the button for the garage door. As it climbed up, I started the engine and turned to see that the door was up, meaning I was clear to go, then pulled out of my parking space.
I maneuvered my new Ford Fusion down the driveway, through the neighborhood, and to the stop sign at the farm-to-market road, where I turned to see if traffic was coming. Since it wasn’t, I headed right and drove the three miles to town and another mile or so to the grocery store.
A great parking place was open right in front of the store, so I slid into it and cut my engine. After unbuckling my seat belt, I gathered my purse and grocery list and left the car to walk the few steps to the store’s sliding glass doors. Someone greeted me and I turned to see one of the employees offering me a basket. He smiled. “How are you today?”
I returned his smile. “I’m doing great.”
I took the basket and, after dropping my purse into the child’s seat, pushed it toward the bread, where I tested several loaves before choosing the one I thought was the freshest. Then I turned to see the tortillas and tried to make a decision between the burrito size and the fajita size.
The voice behind me startled me. I turned to see one of the ladies from my church, the dragon-wife of one of the deacons. I dreaded this encounter with her, but plastered on a smile. “Hello, Dora. How are you today?”
“I’m doing good,” she said, assessing me from head to toe and smiling. “How are you?”
Took awhile to get to the good stuff, didn’t it? Were you getting bored? Were you suffering from motion sickness–too many useless movements before we get to the point?
I do every time I see some variation of this in a manuscript I’m editing.
I’m not sure where newbie authors get the idea they have to supply step-by-step details of their characters’ movements, but I’m declaring war on it. Trust your reader to supply what’s implied.
Of course, this example is exaggerated, but not by much. There are times when I see something exactly like this, times when the process is a little more sophisticated, but either way, the author is supplying a laundry list of unnecessary action. It’s enough to have me running to the medicine chest for the Dramamine. To make matters worse, the drive often includes flowery descriptions of the landscape as it slides past the car windows, or a detailed description of the scents emanating from the grocery store, or a variety of other things that serve as filler between getting to the store and getting to the action.
If this clip landed on my desk, the first thing I’d do is scratch everything from “I grabbed my keys” to the sentence where the character has her grocery cart in the bread aisle, which means I’d eliminate five doors, two references to smiling, and four “turned to see” actions. Then, I’d edit what’s left.
“Oh, dear, we’re out of bread.” I grabbed my keys and my grocery list and rushed out.
At the store, as I battled for a decision between the burrito-sized tortillas and the fajita sized, a voice behind me said, “Hello, Linda.”
Dora. The dragon-wife of Deacon Edwards. I steeled my spine against what was bound to be an unpleasant experience and smiled. “Hello, Dora. How are you today?”
“I’m doing good.” She took a head-to-toe assessment of me and smirked. “How are you?”
Now, we can get down to the good stuff, and all it took to orient the reader was the three-word phrase, “At the store.” Since the main character grabbed the keys on the way out, it’s implied she drove to get there. Like I said: Trust your reader to supply what’s implied.
Just because I’m omitting the entire process of how the character gets from one place to another doesn’t mean it’s always wise to leave it out. If your characters are talking in the bedroom, then suddenly one cracks a pair of eggs over a heated skillet, you’ve left something out. It doesn’t take much to move your characters–and your readers–from the bedroom to the kitchen, so don’t make a production of it, but do move everyone from one room to the other.
Use your sense and trust your readers.
Final note: I’m declaring war on “turned and saw,” “turned to see,” and whatever equivalent is presented in their stead, especially when the phrase is being used for the POV character.
How does the saying go? “Don’t tell me the moon is full, show it beaming off shards of glass?”
I’m sure I have that wrong, but the point’s the same. Don’t tell your readers that your POV character turned to see something. Show what he saw. When you read the second example of Dora the dragon-wife, did you really picture the POV character talking with her back toward her nemesis? More than likely, you assumed she “turned and saw.”
Trust your reader to supply what’s implied. Repetition, I know, but it bears repeating!