1. Richach

    Richach Active Member

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    Style Suggestions about how to write about mundane things

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by Richach, Oct 7, 2019.

    I think it is really important to write about everyday things as they reflect real life. Like eating and drinking for example. However I cant help but cringe when I read back my own writing on say:

    'What my characters are having for breakfast.'

    I also find watching characters in films eating and talking at the same time really annoying so maybe it is just me!

    Apparently if it is done well, writing about such things is enjoyed by readers. Any thoughts?
     
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  2. Cave Troll

    Cave Troll Hi floor, make me a sammich. :P Supporter Contributor

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    IDK, I think Fantasy and Sci-fi have a leg up on contemporary fiction,
    when it comes to 'mundane' things. There is just so many more options
    to play around with that you can't really do with a bowl of cereal, or
    bacon and eggs. Unless you add in something interesting into the mix.
    [​IMG]
     
  3. Richach

    Richach Active Member

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    :supergrin:
     
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  4. DK3654

    DK3654 Almost a Productive Member of Society Contributor

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    I'd say the trick is to find something interesting you can include in there. Like, it's a perfect moment to get some more insight into your characters- what people think and do day-to-day can be just as revealing as how they act during the big exciting moments. You could also show off something about your setting, giving relevant details as to how your fantasy/sci-fi world, historical setting, or even modern-day setting, works and immersing us in it. And you can always foreshadow or build-up toward more exciting plot-points.
     
  5. Richach

    Richach Active Member

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    Yes I see how other authors have done this DK. It works really well for them.

    Its all about focusing on the little details?
     
  6. badgerjelly

    badgerjelly Contributor Contributor

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    Think of everything as symbolic. Nothing is ‘mundane’. If it has nothing to add remove it. No one wants to read a shopping list.
     
  7. Lifeline

    Lifeline Going South. Supporter Contributor

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    @DK3654 said it best. Utilise the breakfast scene to define your character.

    e.g. In a breakfast scene I showed my MC's distrust of a particular person by refusing to eat a dish when it is handed over. Consequently, in a far later scene, the reader will understand that my MC trusts another person when he eats. Of course, it's not only the refusal but a whole bunch of other indicators (atmosphere, what's said during breakfast, backstory) that showed the distrust. It's not that easy ;)
     
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  8. jannert

    jannert Who? Whooo? Staff Supporter Contributor

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    I like to use mealtimes as a 'setting' for certain scenes in my story. It can create atmosphere, as well as give the characters something to do. There can be conviviality, or sullenness, appreciation of the food or dislike of the food. All these things can figure in to the plot development as well as character development.

    Here is a section of my novel's Chapter 7 as illustration of how I used mealtimes to help set a scene. And no, I don't want feedback on it. It's just here for illustration.

    My main character Joe has been invited to stay with Rob and Jessie Buchanan for the winter, while the ranch is more or less snowed in. Joe is a newcomer to the ranch, and has offered to train Rob's horses for free, to help pay for the hospitality. However, Rob has refused to allow him to work without being paid. Joe still insists he won't take any money. Thus the dinner scene opens, with all the regular ranch hands present. Joe is still a stranger to most of these men, and has only known Rob and Jessie for three days. The scene is told from Jessie's POV :


     
    Last edited: Oct 7, 2019
  9. deadrats

    deadrats Contributor Contributor

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    When writing about the mundane, it's very important to think of the story occasion. Why are you showing readers about this particular breakfast on this particular day? Nothing crazy has to happen, but there should be a reason to include these mundane moments and they can be very telling (in a quiet way) of much larger issues and drill in what's really at stake.
     
    Last edited: Oct 7, 2019
  10. Mary Elise

    Mary Elise Member

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    In my family mealtimes are/were catch up times for everyone to bring up something new, or a problem, or an opportunity. Meals at my house are never quick, quiet affairs.

    If I were using that in my work I'd focus not on the food but the interactions between us and what those interactions led to. Having raised a true drama queen my daughter would often push from the table and stomp to her room while my son and I gave each other "The Look" and my husband grumbled. Other times, especially during holiday meals, we learned things about our kids we may have missed otherwise, especially once they were adolescents.

    How one consumes food and beverage, and what one consumes where, can show a lot about that individual so you can also use meals to illustrate something about your character(s). The scene from Pat Conroy's Beach Music in which the four sons are cooking for their mother's "year after cancer diagnosis" comes to mind.

    If it's important enough for you to want to write it, there's something other than a menu rolling around your head. Isolate what that is and use the meal and its details as the frame for the crux.
     
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  11. KiraAnn

    KiraAnn Member

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    It’s the mundane things that help make Monk or Professor T.

    Without those mundane things that illustrate their quirks, they are just ordinary consulting detectives.
     
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  12. Matt E

    Matt E Ruler of the planet Omicron Persei 8 Supporter Contributor

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    My answer would generally be: don't. If it is truly mundane, skip it. If it is relevant to the character and the unsatisfactory situation they find themselves in, definitely. That's not really mundane from the reader's standpoint, only the characters. Give it meaning so that it is interesting. If there is no meaning, skip it.
     
  13. Mckk

    Mckk Moderator Staff Supporter Contributor

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    It's always about what this mundane activity show about your character or in what way it furthers the plot. Henning Mankell often had short snippets of the MC Wallander eating takeaway pizza, or other such mundane detail. In his case, it added to Wallander's sense of growing loneliness. It happened only very occasionally but it was clearly a very deliberate choice to include it. It isn't there just because it's part of daily life. It's there for a reason.

    So what's your reason? What does this particular mundane activity show us about your character?

    For example, me putting on my shoes - that's boring. But if I spent 2 hours deciding on what shoes to wear and was subsequently late meeting my friend - that shows something about my personality. That's the difference.
     
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  14. peachalulu

    peachalulu Member Reviewer Contributor

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    Everyone else has given some great advice. If I find I have something mundane to say I either keep it super simple - like a transition statement - He drove to work - or if there's a way of showing the character's personality, the dynamics between certain characters, the plot or theme within the scene than I carefully construct my details to showcase this.

    Also I thinks this is an issue for any scene when writers get too focused on plot. The greatest way of developing a scene is to really look around at your imaginary set and find new ways to utilize typical items. Get away from generalizations breakfast, table, coffee, cereal, small talk. Sharpen the details. And once you start to zero in on the details let them mean something to your characters. Does your mc have to have her cinnamon toast cut into a heart shape by daddy with the scissors? Does the baby flinging Cheerios have such good aim everyone has to cover their coffee cups? Create a mood - fun chaos, melancholy, excitement, sleepy irritation something.
     
  15. cosmic lights

    cosmic lights Senior Member

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    You can turn a mundane scene into an interesting one.

    First read scenes where authors have done this and it actually worked. See how they did it. Usually, they use that time to give the readers some insight into their character/character(s). You can show the relationship between characters.
     
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  16. philtre

    philtre New Member

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    i like to think that mundane details can be used to reflect the overall feeling of the characters you're trying to put forward to the writer. for example, reflecting their misery in the sogginess of the cornflakes they're reading, or focusing in on the potentially erotic nature of the fruits they're unpeeling in foreshadowing to a sex scene.

    but, that said, if it can't be used in such a way, it may be worth just cutting out the mundane parts. it's worth remembering that books and films are worlds apart - a technique you enjoy in film may not work effectively in literature.
     
  17. OurJud

    OurJud Contributor Contributor

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    Read some Charles Bukowski. He was a master of making the mundane good to read.

    And funny you should say that about watching characters eat in films. I absolutely love it! It fascinates me no end, so much so I started a tumblr blog with nothing but clips of 'eating scenes' from film.

    You probably shouldn't watch this :D

     
    Last edited: Nov 8, 2019
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  18. jannert

    jannert Who? Whooo? Staff Supporter Contributor

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    What a great show that was. I LOVE Jimmy Nail!
     
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  19. OurJud

    OurJud Contributor Contributor

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    I watch it obsessively and never tire of it.
     
  20. Mckk

    Mckk Moderator Staff Supporter Contributor

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    The question is why are you showing the reader what the characters are having for breakfast?

    If I show a child emptying the last of the cereal into his bowl and then filling it with water, I know his family can't afford milk. He's poor and hungry.

    If I show a child talking about his weekend, and it turns out he hopped into a plane and went across the Atlantic for no particular reason other than for fun, I know this family is filthy rich. (true story)

    If I show a dinner table of three plates but only mother and child eating, I know dad's often late home and misses dinner.

    If I show a trash bin overflowing with pizza boxes, and a mother in front of the TV and the child doesn't even tell his mum he's going out, I know this is a household where the parents don't pay the child much attention.

    You're never actually showing the items of food for breakfast. You're using it to deliver something else. You're reducing a situation to its essence so that it communicates something to your reader beyond just what's on the surface. It doesn't matter if the pizza is Hawaiian pizza or four cheese. It doesn't matter if the cereal is Frosties or Coco Pops. You need to find details that are symbolic. What does matter is the lack of milk. What does matter is the extra plate of food at dinner and the empty chair. What does matter is pizza boxes indicate takeout, which indicates parents who don't or won't cook. It doesn't matter what the child has gone out of the house for - what matters is he didn't bother to inform his mother, because it indicates their relationship and how they normally operate.

    You say the details reflect life. That's too general. Whose life? It should reflect your character's life. Now pick out only details that show me that. Yes, who doesn't have breakfast? Pick out the things that make it intimate. You need to pick out things that make it not normal. Not just anybody's life. But your character's life.
     
  21. matwoolf

    matwoolf Contributor Contributor

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    Taken from my COW, an historical novel.

    ...

    Cowboys shuffled into the kitchen. The men spread themselves at the long kitchen table whilst Mrs Jannert scooped beans from the cauldron held in her ample fist.

    ‘Beans,’ she said to Enrico.

    ‘Por Favore,’ he said in Mexican.

    ‘Beans,’ she said to Daniel Church, a meek and well-mannered cowboy.

    ‘Than you Mamm,’ he said.

    ‘Beans,’ she said to the newcomer sat amidst all these hungry cowboys eating beans and slurping coffee.

    ‘Do you have any beef, babe?’ said Mat Sparkle, the gunslinger.

    ‘Beef on a ranch? Do you have an undiagnosed mental health condition?’ said Jannert.

    Meanwhile all the cowboys continued to ruminate on beans.

    Chuck Wanker strode among his men. ‘Boys,’ he said at the head of table, ‘I want you to meet Mat Sparkle, our new head of light entertainments. Mat…I’ll cook you a steak myself. If you can eat the entire flank and head, heck I’ll give you my ranch, and my wife.'

    Jannert growled.

    tbc
    [fight scene, @J v @M Sparkle wrestle with knives/beans]
     
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