When Your Characters Gaze, Ponder & Move About: A Random Rant

I’ve been reading a LOT of manuscripts lately, both submissions and from my clients. I’ve noticed a common weakness in writing that is easily remedied. If you want to describe something, just describe it. You don’t have to have your character’s “gaze fall upon” whatever you want to describe. They don’t need to “all of a sudden notice” it. It doesn’t have to “catch their attention.” Believe it or not, I’ve read those exact words in about five different manuscripts this week. Five! The EXACT same words!

Same goes for pondering and thinking. She pondered this. He pondered that. He couldn’t help but think… She thought to herself that… STOP! Most of the time you can just say what it is, without it being your character’s thought. Go ahead, take a look at your manuscript. I’ll wait here…

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See? That didn’t take too long. I’m right, aren’t I?! Most of the time you CAN just say whatever you need to say without your character “wondering,” “supposing,” “reflecting” or “musing.”

Now, last pet peeve: When you want your character to move through a scene, or a room, or a task, you do NOT need to tell us every single thing that they do. Unless it makes a difference to the story, of course. I mean, it’s just not important to let us know that, for instance, Meghan got up from her chair, crossed the room, noticed that she needed to vacuum the carpet, and went into the kitchen to make herself some coffee. You could just say, “Meghan went to the kitchen and made herself some coffee.” We would surmise that in order to do that she’d have to get out of the chair and cross the room. And if the un-vacuumed floor isn’t relevant to anything, please don’t include it.

How many of you writers out there are guilty of these faux pas?

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7 responses to “When Your Characters Gaze, Ponder & Move About: A Random Rant

  1. Eyebrows… furrowing, rising, meeting in the middle–anything eyebrows is my go-to descriptor. I go delete and replace 95% of them when I revise.

  2. Emily

    Been there, done that! It’s really freeing when you realize that you can skip all that stuff. (And kind of embarrassing when you realize you should have been doing so all along!)

  3. Hmmmm. . . . As I sit in my chair and contemplate the need to vacuum my carpet, I’ll let my gaze fall upon my manuscript and see if all of a sudden I notice any of those errors catch my attention. Of course, I’m sure I probably won’t find any such egregious weaknesses in my own writing, at which point I’ll start wondering: Should I just get up from my chair, go across the room, and enter the kitchen so I can make some coffee?

    (Thanks for giving me something to think about this morning other than my dirty carpet.)

  4. Thanks for the reminders. I’m revising today so my eyes will be open for these mistakes as I work.

  5. R.L. Saunders

    For me, as a reader, I sometimes don’t even like description that DOES serve the story in some way. For one thing, I have the attention span of a third-grader. But I also like to come up with my own images, especially concerning physical description of characters and landscape. If I’ve formed them and then you mess with them by describing them a different way, it’s distracting. If physical descriptions don’t play a specific part in the story, let me do it, myself. But of course, I’d expect more of it in adult literary fiction than in, say, middle grade fiction for reluctant (underserved) readers. Aaand, I do believe I’ve wandered completely off topic. Oh look! A butterfly!

  6. Yes!!! I see this a lot too. Writers can do a global search in their manuscripts for words like “looked” and “noticed” and “saw” and usually remove these references. Especially in a first person manuscript.

    Thanks for the post, Linda!