#SaysTheEditor: He Stood From, Standing, and those fun things


He stood from his chair.

Know what? Nothing clues me in to a young writer faster than that phrase. Oh, usually, I’ve caught on before, but this phrase? Yep. Dead giveaway.

Here’s why.

First off, standing is a gesture that’s so commonplace that it’s like sneezing. Blinking. Breathing. Walking. There’s no need for us to mention those things unless they are significant to the plot. So She stood becomes what I call play by play — those extra phrases that are really nothing more than what the theater folk call blocking. It’s the way to move a character across a page, nothing more. You can’t even call it character development; everyone stands at some point (unless you’re paralyzed, but you get what I mean)!

There’s a difference between moving a character across a page and moving a story forward. The two don’t always coincide.

Especially so when people are standing from their chairs. What else are they going to stand from? Ten times out of eleven in fiction, they are in a chair. (The eleventh, they are either on a couch or in a car. Maybe a barstool, but even that is a sort of chair.) And what’s the point of telling us that they are getting out of a chair?

Focus, always, on one thing: how does this advance my story? If you can’t answer that, we don’t need to know that he stood. And we especially don’t need the aurally awkward from his chair.

Now, one note to consider here: sometimes, these bits of play by play, these blocking movements are important to you, Steve or Stevie, the author. You need to know where all the characters are during the scene so they don’t do something dumb like magically appear when two pages ago, they were on a different continent. Or you need to know all this for your worldbuilding because you’ve created your own world and how people navigate it, physically, is important.

But that doesn’t mean the reader needs to know everything you do. In fact, it’s usually better if they don’t. But that’s another blog post for another time.

For now, go take a look. How many times do your characters stand, let alone stand from? You might want to fix that…


1 Comment

  1. Dana Griffin

    June 9, 2015 2:40 pm

    Hmmm… I wonder who you were thinking of when you wrote this post. 🙂

    I’m hoping in my next manuscript these “young writer” phrases will have vanished from it.

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