This week's Refresher Friday takes another look at describing movement in a scene. Enjoy!
There's an old saying in the movie biz, "cut to the chase."
Basically, it means skip the boring stuff about how someone got there and just jump into the action. Good advice for both movies and books, but sometimes getting there is something we can't avoid.
Such as when a character needs to move around.
Describing every little thing a character does can get tedious since there are only so many "he walked across the room"s we can do. But if we don't do enough, the reader can't follow what's going on and might get lost--and thus get pulled out of the story.
Luckily, readers are really good at filling in the blanks if we give them enough context. Like playing Hangman or Wheel of Fortune--we get a few letters, and the phrase is clear.
Choose the Right Words to Describe the Movement
We have the basic ambulatory words: Walk, run, dash, charge, sneak, tiptoe, went, crawled, etc. Most of the time these work just fine. They're like "said." We can slip them into the text and readers gloss right over. But if there's a lot of running around, such words start leaping out at the reader.
(Here's more on writing stage directions)
When you find yourself reaching for a thesaurus for one more word for "walk," try looking for things that suggest movement through a space instead.
Bob went over the maps spread out across the table. Sally had marked the areas most likely to be infested with zombie dens, and from all the red lines, getting to the supply depot wasn't going to be easy.
"Crap!"Did you see Bob cross the room? No, but you know he did, because he opened the door. And the "wait" suggests a delay before he could do it, thus the time when he crossed the room.
He looked up. Jane was struggling with a crate of dynamite, unable to grab the door.
"Wait," Bob said, "let me help you with that." He opened it for her.
Granted, you could easily say, "dashed over and opened it for her," but what if you needed to show him walking back to the table? You might end up with a lot of movement tags in there. Eliminating one would most likely make the scene read smoother. Which movement you choose to focus on is up to you, as you might want him to dash over to show his eagerness to help Jane, or walk back to the table in a way that suggests something else about the scene or character.
(Here's more on dealing with the passage of time between scenes)
Movement details are another opportunity to show motive and character. They're one more example of the "why" mixing with the "how" to make your stage directions do more than just say where people go.
Show Movement By Not Showing it
Sometimes it's better to eliminate the movement altogether. How many times have you read or written a scene that's all about how a character got from point A to pint B? Probably boring right? It's nothing but a quick transition paragraph (or longer) that doesn't actually do anything to move the story because it's too busy moving the character.
So cut to the chase.
(Here's more on moving from scene to scene)
Scene breaks are perfect in these situations. If your character says they need to go somewhere, or it's clear they're done where they are, simply break the scene and start the next with the characters already where they need to be. Open with something that lets the reader know what's changed (if it's location or time) and then move on with the story. No one needs to know how they got there if nothing happened during that journey.
How do you feel about movement scenes? Do you prefer to write out the transitions or do you break scenes?
Planning Your Novel: Ideas and Structure, a series of self-guided workshops that help you turn your idea into a novel.
Janice Hardy is the founder of Fiction University, and the author of the teen fantasy trilogy The Healing Wars, where she tapped into her own dark side to create a world where healing was dangerous, and those with the best intentions often made the worst choices. Her novels include The Shifter, (Picked as one of the 10 Books All Young Georgians Should Read, 2014) Blue Fire, and Darkfall from Balzer+Bray/Harper Collins. The first book in her Foundations of Fiction series, Planning Your Novel: Ideas and Structure is out now.
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