Character actor

toaster2sAs a reader, I’m often pulled out of the story by impossibility. And today, I’m not talking about the big things that make you close the book forever … or throw it across the room. I mean the little things, like having a character put bread in the toaster and three lines of dialogue later, she’s already buttering toast. Something like that is certainly not enough to make me put the book down, but it’s a reminder that I’m only reading. I’d rather stay immersed in the story, lost in the world the writer created. I want the writing to be transparent.

I’d like to say I’ve never written one of these little bugaboos, but since this post is non-fiction, I can’t. Because they are one of my pet peeves, though, I spend a lot of my writing time with my eyes closed. I like to visualize my character in action, so I can “see” that he’s still holding that tea kettle and therefore can’t pick up the cat with both hands.

I even spend a portion of it on my feet, speaking lines of dialogue as I cross the room to see at just what point I would reach for the doorknob. Sometimes I cheat a bit, I have the world’s slowest toaster—I could speak six pages of dialogue before my toast popped up—but I try to come close to realism.

Of course, it’s all right to expect the reader to assume some actions. If the character is driving somewhere, I don’t need a play-by-play of every turn of the steering wheel along the way. But I can’t ignore that your protagonist has just prepared lasagna from start to finish in the time it took to discuss the day’s weather. And I’ll roll my eyes if you describe a scene where a kid has just turned his iPod up to 11, but then overhears his parents having a conversation three rooms away.

Likewise, unless the book is fantasy, if the protagonist lives in Indianapolis and supports the local professional baseball team … well that’s sloppy research, and I just might send that book sailing across the room.

20 thoughts on “Character actor

  1. I too love that toaster! I agree, it’s hard to suspend disbelief at times, but it doesn’t stop me from reading either. I do love to be able to relate to a story/character so much so that I become immersed in a book and just live in that world. Loved the idea of closing the eyes to see what th character does next. Your writing tips are so helpful and inspiring!

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  2. O-er, I’ll have to be more careful now! It’s a good point but as you say, some writers can overdo the detail a bit…isn’t it funny that characters never seem to need the loo…?

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  3. and letting us assume that is good. Except..that made me think of a friend who always turned on the tap the minute she got in there. Every time. Could be a good way to show how er, unusual a character can be.

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  4. Oh, Linda this is absolutely what I strive for when I write. It is the reason I read, and I can only expect to offer the same to another reader. It is also, part of the experience of writing for me, to become so immersed in my writing that I loose track of all that is around me.

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    1. It was made by a company called Pylones [https://www.pylones-usa.com]. Amazon used to sell it, but no more. It’s called Colorful Dots, I believe.

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