Monday, October 1, 2012

Light my fire!

And don’t beat around the bush. (Perhaps I should also mention avoiding clichés, but that’s not really what this blog is about.)

Here’s what it IS about, a sentence from a novel that shall remain anonymous.

"He started to light the fire.”

He started? Did he scrape a match on sandpaper? Flick his Bic? Rub two sticks together? Or was the main character feeling amorous?

Of course I understood the action, given the context of the sentence within the paragraph and chapter. Because it had been raining, I even knew there might be damp kindling involved, but the opportunity to be specific about the main character’s action was lost. I didn’t “see” him light the fire or smell the smoke generated by the blaze.

Was it really that important? I thought so. Lighting a fire at that specific time was the first hint of things to come, so the foreshadowing was weakened by the lack of description. The author focused on the timing of the event rather than the action, but greedy me, I wanted both.

Reading that phrase and wanting more reminded me to strive to be specific, even when describing my character's smallest actions.

Anyone gotta match?

by Janet Fogg

Janet is the author of Soliloquy, an award-winning historical romance, and co-author of the military history bestseller, Fogg in the Cockpit.


Margaret Yang said...

You've hit upon one of my pet peeves. Sentences that say "he started to" or "he began to" are truly unnecessary. Just cut to the action! We know he began it when we see him doing it.

Patricia Stoltey said...

or "he watched as"

I understand this is one of the issues covered by a book published this year called Rivet Your Readers with Deep Point of View by Jill Elizabeth Nelson. I've added it to my reading list (especially after proofreading my latest manuscript and finding some of the began/started/watched sentences lurking in my otherwise brilliant prose). :D

GillyB said...

Another one that gets to me is when people write, "He came and handed me the mug." Why not just say, "He handed me the mug"? Or better yet, "He shoved it forcefully into my hand, spilling hot coffee all over my shirt"?

Anonymous said...

"C'mon, baby, light my fire...."

Sorry, Janet. You know it had to be said! ;-]

Sisters of the Quill said...

Amen Sister! Karen