|Make the action work by tightening the steps.|
This is part three of my series on Character Actions and What Your Readers Really Need to Know.
You can read Part One here.
Part Two here.
Part Three here.
As I mentioned in the previous installments, knowing when to stop the action or delete it altogether can be a hard choice. I use an acronym called D.I.M.E. which breaks down to:
Does the action add to the scene?
Is the action filler?
Make it (the action) work by tightening the steps. (COVERED IN THIS SECTION)
Eliminate it if it’s not absolutely necessary.
Suppose it’s important that your readers know Janice is not a morning person and she needs her coffee before she can start her day. This information can be provided to the reader using what I like to call “muscular verbs”. These are not your ordinary “saw”, “went”, “walked”, types of verbs. Read the following example:
The smell of coffee juiced her blood. Janice poured herself out of the bed, avoiding the mirror. The rat’s nest on her head screamed for a comb, but she pushed the pause button until she guzzled the first sip of liquid energy.
Every scene can be tightened, every verb made a little stronger, and that’s what removes the extraneous information which only serves to stall your plot and bore your readers.
This was a lesson I had to learn the hard way when I began writing over twenty years ago. I felt it necessary to depict every single action of my characters. Otherwise, how would my readers know how my heroine got from the couch to the kitchen? If I didn’t tell them what she wore down to the colors of her shoelaces, they wouldn’t be able to paint the appropriate picture in their mind.
Informative action has its place, but it can be slipped in casually without taking center stage. A brief paragraph from one of my own novels gives an example.
Her mind had translated her interview with John Ramsey into vivid recreations of his crimes, leaving an icy residue on her skin. “Okay. Shake it off, Kate.” She got to her feet and checked the time. Six a.m. Just as she planned. Coffee, yoga, then time to go toe to toe with Brad Jericho.
Though I provided the heroine’s schedule, I did so with only one line of actual action. She got to her feet and checked the time. The rest I provided with descriptions, thoughts, and the general gist of her actions, i.e., coffee, yoga. Without showing my heroine’s travels into the kitchen or yoga poses, I still let the reader know she had a need for coffee, took care of her body, and intended to face down someone who stood in her way. So whatever action you feel needs to be included, make it as tight as possible.