1. ArjunSingh

    ArjunSingh New Member

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    How to remove unnecessary action from the scene?

    Discussion in 'Word Mechanics' started by ArjunSingh, Jul 12, 2017.

    I notice there are too many unnecessary actions in my scenes.
    The most common are:

    1. When a character moves from one place to another.
    e.g. He entered the room. He walked to the window. He walked outside. He went outside. He went to the bedroom. and so on.
    I write it too often and it seems like I am doing it wrong.

    2. When a character sits or rises from the chair/couch/bed.
    e.g. He settled on the chair. He grabbed a chair. He pushed the chair back and got up. He sat on the couch. And so on.

    3. When a character is turning to look behind him.
    e.g. He turned around. He pivoted on his ankle. He spun around and so on.

    4. Looking/Staring actions.
    e.g. He looked over at her. He craned his neck to...and so on.


    In every scene, I find myself repeating those actions. Is there a way to minimise that, and still convey in what position the character is?
     
  2. Storysmith

    Storysmith Active Member

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    Does the character's position matter? Perhaps it does in an action scene, but if two characters are speaking, I'd suggest you worry less about whether people visualise their locations correctly, and more about the dialogue and mood.
     
  3. LostThePlot

    LostThePlot Naysmith Contributor

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    Just be more fluid in what you're writing. These micro-movements matter very little most of the time and it's ok to just say the characters are walking (say) and then not describe them taking a step until they get where they're going; just writing the conversation as if it was happening stood still.

    The way you don't write such things is just to not write them. But don't give yourself a hard time if that's how things come out. That's what editing is for. And you remove them by availing yourself of the backspace key. If they don't matter, just get rid of them. It's really that simple.
     
  4. ArjunSingh

    ArjunSingh New Member

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    I understand what you said, Storysmith. My issue is: My characters are moving around a lot. And they are always looking for a place to sit (chair, edge of the bed). And I find myself telling the same thing over and over again. Sometimes, a character grabs a chair 4 times in one chapter. And he moves around a lot.
    e.g. He left the chair and rushed outside. He jumped to his feet and rushed outside. And so on. How can I minimise it? Like there are many way to show passage of time; is there a way/indirect way to show these movements?
     
  5. ArjunSingh

    ArjunSingh New Member

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    Exactly. How to bring that fluency? As I mentioned in my earlier reply: My issue is: My characters are moving around a lot. And they are always looking for a place to sit (chair, edge of the bed). And I find myself telling the same thing over and over again. Sometimes, a character grabs a chair 4 times in one chapter.
     
  6. ChickenFreak

    ChickenFreak Contributor Contributor

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    I think that this sort of question is most easily answered by example. And it also tends to require a fair bit of context. Do you have an example, even one written for this thread?

    I'm going to write a random set of actions, and try to compress them. I frankly have no idea whether this set of examples is useful.

    ----

    Joe woke from his nap to the smell of soup. Hungry, he got to his feet and headed across the living room. He pushed the kitchen door open and walked in to find Jane stirring the stockpot. Stopping by the stove, he asked, "Could I have some?"

    "Of course." Jane moved to the cabinet and took down a bowl, then opened a drawer and rummaged for a ladle. "Blah de blah?"

    Joe shrugged. "Blah."

    She lifted the lid of the soup pot. "But blah?"

    "Eh." Joe opened a drawer and found a spoon. "But also blah."

    She dipped out a ladleful and poured it into the cup. "Me, blah."

    Joe reached to take the bowl and carried it, along with the spoon, to the door. "Blah!"


    ----

    But we don't really care where all that stuff came from, so we just compress it, here with the verb "collected". And we don't care much about Joe's nap and approach and the fact that there's a door, so we throw in "couch" and "stove" as shorthand for "living room" and "kitchen". And "ladling" for "using a utensil to move soup from one container to another".

    Joe woke from a long couch nap to the smell of food. Soup? Soup! He made his way to the the stove, where Jane was stirring the stockpot. "Could I have some?"

    "Of course." Jane collected bowl, ladle, and spoon. "Blah de blah?"

    Joe shrugged. "Blah. Also blah."

    Ladling, she asked, "But blah? Me, blah."

    "Eh, blah de blah." said Joe. He picked up the bowl and spoon and wandered out. "Blah!"


    ---

    Here we cut the beginning, because we really don't care about Joe's movement from living room to kitchen.

    Later that evening, Joe approached Jane in the kitchen. "Could I have some soup?"

    "Of course," said Jane. As she ladled, "Blah de blah?"

    Joe shrugged. "Blah. Also blah."

    "But blah? Me, blah."

    "Eh, blah de blah." said Joe. He collected his soup and wandered out. "Blah!"


    ----

    Here we cut the end, because we really don't care about the movement of the soup, and we add a Call To Soup to avoid the breadcrumb trail of Joe travels.

    Later that evening, Jane called "Soup!"

    Joe happily answered the call, to find her ladling.

    She asked, "Blah de blah?"

    Joe shrugged. "Blah. Also blah."

    "But blah? Me, blah."

    "Eh, blah de blah." said Joe.



    ----
     
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  7. LostThePlot

    LostThePlot Naysmith Contributor

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    You do that by putting the focus on everything else they are doing. That's all. Maybe in your head you know exactly where they are but you've said they are walking and that's all you tell the reader because it doesn't really matter where they are. You just take those phrases out until they are really important. And remember, you don't need to get it right first time. You can edit it. And when these things annoy you or feel useless then you just remove them. And when you read it back I think you'll see that it reads just fine because the focus isn't on those movements anyway, it's on everything else. By not interrupting the dialogue you are ensuring that's what matters not the rest.
     
  8. Mumble Bee

    Mumble Bee Keep writing. Contributor

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    "Can you stop pacing around so much?"

    I stopped, then took an excoriatingly slow step just to piss him off. Steven hated unnecessary movement and that made someone like me his own personal nightmare. With my my ticks; how I near constantly licked the corner of my lip, knocked on doors three times after walking through, or how I sucked in breath before talking.

    "Please just... just sit down."


    Okay, I had a whole thing planned, but @ChickenFreak beat me to it.



    "
     
  9. Laurus

    Laurus Disappointed Idealist Contributor

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    You can start by eliminating details that are implied. If Wilfred goes from sitting to rushing outside, it's implied that he left the chair. It's implied that he's on his feet.

    The actions you're describing are best used as dialogue beats to control the pacing, but beyond that, if the detail is irrelevant to the story and/or characters, eliminate it.

    Don't paint the picture in meticulous detail -- let the readers' imagination do the work. If it's important that we know that Wilfred pushed a chair back before he got up or that he specifically pivoted on his ankle, then it had better add something to the story beyond description.
     
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  10. ChickenFreak

    ChickenFreak Contributor Contributor

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    Another element is to let the actions communicate more than actions--and to cut down to the actions that do communicate more than actions. I recently finished writing and rewriting and rewriting an apology scene, and most of the work was in getting the emotional message of the apologizer's carefully nonthreatening approach and the apologizee's unstated body-language awareness of the reason for that approach. That happened to communicate where he was moving and what she was doing, but those weren't the main point. I drastically trimmed both of their actions (originally there was opening doors and closing doors and turning around and dropping things and looking up and looking down and hesitation followed by speaking, all of which turned out to be unneeded in the end) and then expanded the little bit that was left--for example, the precise character of his smile turned out to be his most important action.
     
  11. ArjunSingh

    ArjunSingh New Member

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    It's a great point. I never looked it that way. Rookie Mistake! I guess, this would help me trim down the movements a lot.

    And thanks a lot, ChickenFreak. Your example is great. And the apology scene. Okay. I will also try to show more relevant actions, and eliminate or reduce giving the meticulous details of the movements.
     
  12. Homer Potvin

    Homer Potvin Get off my Balzac... Contributor

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    A lot of it depends on style. Hemingway and Cormac McCarthy fill their pages with mundane action and idiosyncratic movement (often in terse, stilted prose) before they saw your face off with long fluid passages. Works great for them but it can get boring quickly if not properly nuanced.
     
  13. ChickenFreak

    ChickenFreak Contributor Contributor

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    I had a glance at the apology scene, and was interested to see that after all the cutting, the apologizing character's actions (and I'm increasingly fascinated by this character's movements, so I always initially write too many) were narrowed down to:

    - Entering ("..entered...")
    - Smiling
    - Getting a thing for a short person from a tall shelf ("... handed down a cup from the shelf almost too high for her.")
    - Speaking

    Everything else was implied, mostly by dialogue.

    This is progress for me. I usually have far, far too many little actions.
     

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