I once read a novel in which Character A was driving to a meeting with Character B. They had a lot of very important things to discuss that would greatly advance the plot. I was eager to arrive at this meeting, because I am all about advancing the plot.
I was all ready to meet Character B and see what fascinating revelations he had for us. I think Character A was all hyped for it too, but what we wanted didn’t matter. The author stepped in to block our way until we had parked the car. We parked in a specific space, in a specific lot, a specific distance from the meeting place.
The spot where we parked the car had no bearing on the outcome of our meeting with Character B. It had no effect upon the story whatsoever. The fact that we drove to the meeting was of no importance. Yet, instead of beginning the chapter discussing juicy topics with Character B, we were made to suffer through parking the car. It made me sad.
It made me sad because I have far less reading time than I would like, and I don’t want to spend it parking cars when there are mysteries to solve – mysteries that have nothing to do with where certain cars are parked. My reading time is precious to me; please don’t make me your literary valet.
Parking cars, ordering coffee, having a particular eye color—these are fine things for characters to do, if they are relevant to the plot or show some insight into the character. Otherwise, they are just more words that are likely to block my path and divert my attention before I finish the book.
My rant is not against a particular book or author. Superfluous activities crop up often in fiction. They are a pet peeve of mine, especially because I am not immune to them in my own writing. The vast majority of writers probably have them in their beginning drafts. Part of the work of polishing a manuscript is locating meaningless actions and destroying them.
It may be impossible for the author to identify all the wasted actions in his own book, but it is crucial that he make a whole-hearted attempt. Each wasted action makes the story less intriguing, or to be blunt about it, more boring. It should be ample motivation for an author to know that every time he crosses one of them out, he makes his story better. Nothing should make hard work more palatable than that.
So, here’s the deal: I won’t make you park my cars, unless it’s crucial to your enjoyment of the story, if you don’t make me park yours. Hell, let’s not even drive if we don’t have to. Fiction is a kind of magic; we can just show up at our meetings when we need to. It will save gas, the environment, and maybe even our respective novels.