I read a Downton fic ages ago–I enjoyed it because it focused on two of my favorite characters from the show–but then the writing style got on my nerves a bit because there would be a great emotional or funny scene and then, the characters would transition to the next scene. And usually, the transition was something mundane like, “She folded his shirts, took two of his ties, and a pair of shoes, and added them to the suitcase…”
Guess what was my problem here.
There were suddenly paragraphs of–flurries of–movement that, while explaining a lot about where the dishes went, didn’t do anything story-wise or character-wise.
And then it hit me because this is something my beta reader mentioned a lot of while she suffered through draft three of my book.
“I don’t need to see every single movement!”
For me, part of my compulsion in early drafts to describe every little movement and facial expression of my characters boils down to taking “show, don’t tell” too far and because of the mind movie. That is, in the early stages of writing, I have these wonderful scenes play out in my mind. They’re usually the more important scenes of the story, but they play out as if they were film clips and I used to describe those scenes in my writing.
Always, there was a loss in translation. Because when I’m watching it, I see people moving, fiddling with things, their facial expressions. I hear what they’re saying, but not necessarily the meaning behind their words.
None of the movement, what the character is doing with their mouth or nose, or the smalltalk is necessary. The meaning is necessary. The conflict is necessary. Describing the scene like you’re an outsider does not, for me, work in actually writing the scene.
So try not to do that, okay?
Instead, I’m finding that being in my characters’ mindsets is the better way to filter a scene in. This should be obvious and it is, but old habits are hard to break.
As for vivid characters—-some of those mind movie scenes made my characters seriously come alive. Must try to infuse that vivid sense into their mindsets. This means trying to figure how they see the world, right?
So, here following are brief statements from my main characters:
Alexandra: “I like to climb things. Mama says I shouldn’t do it because it’s not ladylike.” *rolls eyes*
Madeline: “Horses are very big and they have big teeth and they’re scary…but I like the horses at Astley’s! The rider leaned off of the horse to grab a handkerchief from the ground! How amazing!”
Pearl: “England is a strange place—cold, gray, rainy–and the people are certainly different from Barbados. I’m not at all sure I can find Julius here, but I must try. They say slaves can’t be kept on English soil. I’m saving the wages Mr. Keegan pays me now. I get wages now!”
Miles: “What do you mean you find me boring sometimes? Didn’t you create me?”
Me: “Well, yes, I did. But I find you the hardest in terms of getting into your mind sometimes. You’re a bit more closed-off than your daughters.”
Me: “Must be an English thing, huh?”
Miles: “I want to continue this conversation, Dear Writer Girl, but I must be off. I have an estate to see to. Even though I thought I communicated to you that I didn’t want an estate at all.” *pulls on long riding boots* “”Also, was it necessary to give me such a tangled romantic history in the past? Borders on melodrama!” *looks at me closely* “Are you American?”
Miles: “Hmm. I like Americans. Well, good day.”