A couple of weeks ago, I received a line edit from my agent Joanna Volpe. Here is one of the sentences from my novel before the line edit:
Mom opened her door and dug her three-inch heel into the gravel…Insert some witty dialogue…She stepped out of the car and slammed the door.
My agent changed it this to:
Mom opened her door and dug her three-inch heel into the gravel…Insert some witty dialogue…She slammed the door.
In her comments she wrote:
You don’t need to tell us every single step the characters take…that actually becomes distracting. Leave some for the imagination…telling us every step is what editors call “stage directions” and it completely slows the pacing of the books.
Like most of the comments I’ve received from my agent, I instantly thought, Uh duh. How did I NOT know this? We already knew the character was in the car from the beginning of the scene. We knew her door was open and her foot was out from the beginning of the paragraph. It’s pretty obvious she has stepped out of the car before she slams the door.
So how do you identify the unnecessary stage directions in your story? My advice is this:
Too much: Helen went to the kitchen. She took a cup out of the cupboard then closed the cupboard door. She filled it with coffee and added some cream. She stirred then took a sip. Within moments, the caffeine entered her system and she felt awake.Enough: Helen went to the kitchen and poured a cup of coffee. Within moments, the caffeine entered her system and she felt awake.Not enough: Helen went to the kitchen. Within moments, the caffeine entered her system and she felt awake.
As you can see, the first one is boring and the last leaves us thinking, huh? But the middle one is good. It gives us enough information about the action to understand the reaction.
In my next post, I will discuss how I’ve learned that sleep is overrated. Okay, maybe not…