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.
4 thoughts on “Valet parking: annoying in real life, worse in fiction”
Oh, man, you would really, REALLY hate the Outlander series of books by Diana Gabaldon. She is into the detail in a very big way, which usually bugs me, too, but her detail is so rich and researched that it serves to bring one deeply into the story and the life these people were living. I just finished the 8th one about a month ago, and I’ve been in withdrawal ever since. I’ve tried to start reading several other books since then, and nothing has been able to hold my interest. It takes her 4 years to write one, so I may be waiting for a year or two. Meanwhile, I have the second half of the series to look forward to in April, or I could start rereading them. Oh, wait, I’ve already done that once.
There are exceptions to every rule (not that anything I’ve said should be taken as a rule). If the description adds to your enjoyment of the story, all the better. But too many writers slow their stories down with unnecessary detail. And we should try not to do that.
I couldn’t agree more.
Other than valet parking you also get that description of scenes where the character is standing amongst a group of trees and the author feels the need to explain every shade of leaf he can, even though the bad guy is about to bury the body, with the child hiding a few yards away…
Who gives a flying f what green the leaves of the trees would be…
Yes, but isn’t it beautiful and inspiring how the different shades of green reflect off the hero’s sapphire blue eyes?