Thursday, November 27, 2014

Oh, those pesky stage directions

Mary Sullivan

Writing can be a joy, but of course, also a challenge. One of the challenges I face when I write is how to deal with the seemingly trivial task of physically moving characters around in a scene, of giving them something to do so they don't read like mannequins in a store window…those things that I call stage directions.

Often, I'm so frustrated by dealing with these when all I really want to do is get to the meat of the story—the falling in love, the emotion, the action scenes—that I will just throw in anything so I can move forward, but then I come back later to edit and give the characters interesting movements that make them part of the scene in more interesting and less repetitive ways.

In edits, I have to shift characters around by doing more than just walking. 'She walked across the room.' 'He walked across the field.' 'She walked toward him.' In the first draft, my poor characters have walked holes through the soles of their shoes.

There is also the issue of breaking up dialogue so they aren't a pair of talking heads floating in a scene. Too much description about doctoring their coffee (I have to watch that one!) or rattling the ice in their drinks can be irritating. Manipulating them around too much in a scene can also be tedious to read, but the characters have to do something, or the scene will be static. The reader has to see them in the room.

In my first draft, I end up writing a lot of repeated phrases that will eventually have to go. My characters do a lot of nodding. They read like the most erudite, thoughtful people on the planet. They also do a lot of looking, gazing, glancing, seeing.

A couple of years ago, I read a novel by a very well known author who 'moved' her characters everywhere. I lost track of how many times throughout the book that someone 'moved' across the room or down the driveway. The impression I was left with was that the book had been written too quickly and then not edited well enough. Kind of a shame in an otherwise good book. The clumsy stage direction had taken me out of the story time and again.

When reading, do you tend to notice whether the stage directions have been handled well? Do clumsy actions by the characters draw you out of the story?

1 comment:

penney said...

It doesn't draw me out of the story, I don't pay any attention to it I 'm so into the story!

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