Monday, May 21, 2012

Stage Direction (Exit Stage Right Even)

Tip of the Day: Anne R. Allen has an information-packed post on her blog called Who Are the Big Six and What Does Indie Publishing Really Mean?

Looking for a way to drop some word count? Check your stage direction.

I'm talking about the words in your manuscript that get your characters from one place to another. For example, your character is sitting on the couch and gets up to walk across the room:

"I sat on the couch. Then I stood up and walked across the room to my desk, where I keep my computer. I turned it on and logged in. I couldn't wait to look at my ex-boyfriend's prom photo on Facebook."

You don't need to include things we know have to happen. If you're sitting, we know you have to stand up to walk. We know computers have to be turned on to work and they don't float in midair. So all that can be cut:

"I sat on the couch. Then I walked across the room to my computer. I couldn't wait to look at my ex-boyfriend's prom photo on Facebook. Did he really wear a neon pink tux?"

See, I got to do something fun with the word count I saved.

Remember, we know you have to find your car keys to start your car. We know you have to open a box of cereal to pour the cereal. We know you have to turn a door knob to open a door. So cut out all that stage direction unless it matters to the plot. If your character is late because it took her computer 10 minutes to warm up and she lost her car keys, then your stage direction isn't really stage direction any more. Now you've created obstacles.

How do you know when you've cut too much? Because I cut too much, or don't write it at all. That's when my beta readers say things like, "Wait, she's speeding down the highway? I thought she was still stalking Facebook."

Stage direction is a balance game. You need just the right amount. Too much and your pace drags; too little and your readers have to go back and re-read to figure out where your characters are. In other words, it's not something I can get on the page perfectly on my first draft. I need feedback. Desperately. I know how she got to her car, so I often don't notice that I forgot to tell my readers.

How do you think you balance out? Do you naturally write too much stage direction or too little?

-- Kate, Miss Perfecting the Pages


Jennifer R. Hubbard said...

I write as little stage direction as possible. I love using scene breaks to let people know, "OK, we're going somewhere else now."

Kate Fall said...

Oh, me too, Jenn. I can hardly imagine writing a chapter without a scene break.

Anne R. Allen said...

Thanks for the shout-out, Kate! That post is getting a lot of traffic. The publishing business looks like such an impenetrable tangle when we're starting out. I think it helps to see the basics organized in one place.

This is a great post. I think all newbies have trouble learning how to get their characters from one place to another without boring the reader. I love page breaks. Although the editor at my new publisher likes teeny chapters instead. He says that's what Patterson does that makes his work such compulsive reading.

G.M. said...

Thanks, Kate. it's common sense you pointed out mistakes that I do sometimes.