Welcome to my blog. I am not a very regular blogger, but I try to keep this site updated with news and information. If there's none of the above I may just share my random ruminations.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Joining up the Dots (or avoiding the boring bits)

The notion that I could write the book I wanted to read first dawned on me when I was ten. It was my fifteen year old sister who inspired the idea when she decided to write her own Georgette Heyer style Regency romance. Just a few pages long, my story was non-specifically set in the ‘olden days’. I no longer have it but retain a very clear memory. Three women, one a teenage girl, went by boat to visit a lighthouse - the type set on a rocky crag, surrounded by sea. Don’t ask me why, they just did.

The lighthouse was manned by three men, one a youth of sixteen. No sooner had the visitors arrived than the weather deteriorated, trapping them there. During the storm the youth went outside to secure the wave-tossed boat which had brought the women. He fell on the rocks, injuring himself. From then on he had to recline on a sofa while my young heroine tended to his not very serious wounds.

At this point my imagination gave out. I had a sense of the romance of the situation, but had no idea how to convey it. And anyway, there was an awful lot of boring domestic stuff to be waded through about the preparation of meals, walking from one room to another, going to bed, getting up, combing hair and brushing teeth. I continued to write ‘novels’ throughout my school days. Many were started, none finished. They all foundered on the same obstacle. Though by this time I thoroughly enjoyed writing the juicy bits - the smouldering glances, the smoochy dances, the kisses and embraces - I soon ran out of steam writing the connecting passages. And yet I felt guilty, as if it was cheating not to detail the passing of time by giving every dot and comma of my heroine’s life - her journeys back and forth on the bus, her visits to her mother, her shopping trips, her excursions to the launderette. I believed a ‘real’ writer was somehow duty bound not only to describe his character’s adventures, but to describe the minutiae of everyday life as well.

It wasn’t until much later that it really came home to me that these descriptions of the mundane are rarely needed. If it bores you to write a passage, it’s a fair guess that it will bore your reader. Of course you need to set the scene. You need to convey the passing of time. You need to evoke smell, taste, touch and to create a believable world in which to set your story. But unless a minor domestic detail is crucial to the plot - in which case it is cheating not to let the reader know it - then it’s unnecessary to follow your characters’ every move from waking in the morning to pulling the duvets up to their chins at night. You can trust your reader to fill in the blanks. Yet it’s surprising how many established authors still allow themselves to get bogged down in the trivial.

Last year I bought Stieg Larsson’s Millennium trilogy. For the most part I enjoyed it. It was a good yarn, but.... In ‘The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo’ I became mightily fed up with descriptions of the hero - Mikael Blomkvist - getting up in the morning, looking out of the window, having a shower, drying himself, getting dressed, walking into the kitchen to make coffee, opening the door, going outside, sitting on the veranda, drinking the coffee... ‘I get the picture!’ I wanted to shout at my Kindle.

I admit I may be exaggerating a little to make the point, and I apologise posthumously to Stieg’s memory, but you know what I’m saying. And the point remains valid. You don’t need to join every dot.


Talli Roland said...

Very true, Gilli! Great advice.

Gilli Allan said...

Thanks Talli. x