Ready for the list? Let's go!
- Main Events are for big scenes, not summaries. At first glance, this might seem like a no-brainer.... and for the most part, it is. For example: having your character leave work and then segue straight to the next morning, when he starts to think about how he'll go about a normal day after being mugged, is a sure-fire way to make your readers spam you with hate mail, or, if they're only beta-readers who know where you live, storm your porch with pitchforks and torches. Not to mention that, uh, what writer doesn't look forward to writing a scene full of tension and that delicious, delicious drama?
- Resist the urge to explain (R.U.E). I was surprised how guilty I was of this in a few scenes. What RUE boils down to is that you need to trust your reader. If someone's running a bath, you don't have to tell them exactly how they turn on the water, or that they have to wait for it to fill up, or test the temperature before getting in. Everyone's run a bath. Most people have started a car. And even if only a small portion of the population has built their own computer tower from scratch, you still don't need to walk them through every step of the process. Times like this are when you shouldn't show the external details: they're when you should turn that showing focus inward and let your reader know what's running through your character's mind: but only if they're thoughts worth showing. For goodness' sake, they don't need to know that your protagonist's nose itches.
- Once Is Usually Enough: If you hark back to the Sophistication checklist, you may remember that I said that routines only need to be described once. If you're going to describe that routine, do it at a place in the plot where its impact on the character or plot is at its clearest, for maximum effect. Finally, be wary of characters who have similar growth paths ... if two need to grapple with the death of a family member, let one carry the burden and give the other a different means toward development. If you can't find one, maybe that second character isn't necessary after all. I know, I know: it terrified me to think that someone I created and poured life into might be unnecessary, too. It doesn't mean you can't use them at all. Just save them for later. It will be okay. I promise.
- Don't overuse favorite words, phrases, or stylistic effects. As you go through your work, make note of things that you use in abundance (one of mine was, strangely enough, the phrase "a minimum of fuss"). Certain characters will develop quirks: polishing their glasses while they think, rubbing the back of their neck when they're nervous, shaking their leg under the table when they're bored. That's fine! It helps give a clearer picture of them to their reader. Just make sure they aren't doing it in every. single. scene. In terms of stylistic effects, I have a writer friend who's very fond of the "fake-out": making something seem much more or less important than it really is... but she is careful how she uses it, and to what effect. Just like the description of a routine I discussed above, use your favorite stylistic tricks where they'll have the most impact on your plot! If you start with a fake-out, for example, you may be setting your reader up to not trust you at all... and that's hardly the relationship you want to have, now, is it?
- Try not to re-describe, even with in-character recaps. Yes, once Big Event A happens in your plot, it is very likely that not everyone in your cast of characters will be around. The poor soul who experienced it is going to have to tell everyone else. But RUE! To paraphrase Mater the Truck: they remember, they was there, too. Which means that they only really need to sit through one explanation in order to understand the lasting impact it had on your poor soul... unless, perhaps, there's a difference in the telling between people that might show something telling. In that case, just skim the parts you've already covered with a dialogue beat (we'll get to beats in the blue sections, soon).
Overall, the main theme of the Orange checklist is to trust your reader, and assume that they are relatively intelligent. They'll remember what you've already told them, and they have everyday experiences of their own to bring to the table. You don't want to show them how life works, in general: you want to show them how life works for this group of characters that you've created, and you want them to become involved and care about the way it ends out. I don't know about you, but telling me how great a book is doesn't really make me care about it. If you sit me down on a couch, put that book in my hand, and say "Here. Read this. I'll go occupy myself while you enjoy it"? I will. I may, in fact, forget that you're there. And isn't that what we want our readers to do?
Next week, get ready to go green, when I cover character and point of view. See you then!