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Thursday, September 4, 2008

What Are You Forgetting?

Have you ever noticed that some genres just seem to have scenes missing? In fantasy, for instance, you almost never see the hero stopping to trap and eat their food unless it's something the writer can make a joke out of. You see spaceships stop for repairs in sci-fi, but you almost never actually see those repairs being done.

This is fine. You can skip a lot of your characters life and still have a wonderful book. But you still need to know what's missing. If your character is going to walk across a 100 mile desert you may not list what they packed, but you need to know what's in there so that you can use the packed goods in the story. You may not detail your star captains lunch, but if you mention fresh-caught trout on the menu please know I will want an explanation.

And if you write modern fiction, anything with people driving in cars, talking on cell phones, and generally cruising through life... don't skimp! At the prodding of friends I've picked up several of these modern books (genres ranging from romance, urban fantasy, horror, thriller, and cozy mystery all fall under this heading- so does most work written under a literary heading) and there are some scenes from daily life I want to see:

- parking lots- Parking lots are a death trap how come you never hear about them in thrillers?

- tour groups - Especially in a museum, how come there isn't some eagle-eyed old woman with her tour hat on yelling at the thief or MC at the museum? Ditto for all national land marks that show up.

- wrong numbers - Why doesn't your MC get woken at 3 am by some drunk asking where you are because they mis-dialed their friends number?

- grocery shopping - Doesn't your character eat?!?! How come they can cruise through the store at a quarter to closing and not hit long lines, surly clerks, and the middle aged man in fish nets and a pink skirt (or is that only in Florida?)?

- paying bills - Unless the mob or depression is factored into the story there is rarely ever a mention of bill paying.

- house sitting - Your MC runs off for three weeks to chase goons to Calcutta.... so who's feeding her cat and picking up her mail?

Is it just me or do these scenes not show up?


  1. The only show up when it matters. But you make a great point. We, as writers, need to know the answers to these questions ahead of time. Perfect example on the what was packed for the journey across the desert!

  2. I never thought of half of them until I saw those done right.

    Han Solo never mentions food in the old Star Wars. But reading the new age of sci-fi I've seen examples of rationing, hydroponics, and bringing fish along for dinner. It helps build the world and it makes life interesting.

    Most missing scenes can be skipped, but I can think of books where it would have helped to have something like those scenes in there, just to add texture.

  3. This is a tough call, because little details should only be included to round out a realistic picture, but not enough to bog down the story with useless laundry lists.

    As writers we're taught to cut everything that isn't needed, everything that doesn't further the story. So,unless the wake up call from the drunk is the spark that leads the MC to grab his A-K and heads out to the local bar to mow down the drunks, it probably should be left out. However, if there is an irony in the phone call (like the mc gave his ex a drunken phone call at the start of the book), well then there's purpose to it, even though it doesn't become a huge plot point.

    The one that bother me is where you have a story where no one ever rests. There's chase scene after chase scene stretching over days, but does anyone hunker down for a good night's sleep? No, they go from battle royalle 1 to escaping by walking for half the night, getting passage on a boat, being attacked by river pirates, the boat burning down, fleeing to shore where, yep, the bad guy catches up with them and battle royalle 2 ensues. Then there's another narrow escape, and the hero crosses a vast plain to get to a neighboring land for help, his nemesis hot on his tail.

    *wheezes* I get tired just paraphrasing it, much less reading whole books where this happens!

    Food is a hard one. Should they eat? Yes. Should too much time be devoted to it? Prolly not. When too much time is given to scenes with a meal involved, the temptation is to turn it into a coffee break where everyone hashes over the events that have happened so far. This is a cliche that we should try to avoid in most cases.

  4. I remember reading LOTR when I was 7 or 8 and wondering if people in books ever used the bathroom. It was never mentioned and at that age I wanted to know what they were doing.

    Actually, just for fun... I wonder how many could take all of those "missing" scenes and make at least a short story out of them, if not a whole book. :o) Could be NaNo fun! I think I could spin grocery shopping and parking lots out into one short of their own. Trying to find parking is always an adventure!