Tag Archives: play by play

#SaysTheEditor The Mundane and the Not Worth Talking About



Week eighteen has come and gone. Week seventeen since the retinal repair.

And really, there’s not much worth talking about. I’m healing. Dodging Frisbees. Starting to get out on my road bike, although it needs to go in for repair; it seems maybe there’s a problem with the front tire. Probably not a surprise, but until I figure it out, it’s not worth talking about. Yet. Maybe ever. I mean, everyone who owns and rides their bike(s) has problems with their front tire from time to time.

That’s the point of the post today. The mundane. The not worth talking about.

If it’s not worth talking about, why do so many young writers talk about it in their fictional narratives? He stood from the table and walked outside, then down the street to the barn, where his horse was waiting.


I call it play by play when I talk to my clients about it.

Try this instead:
When Stevie didn’t answer, Tom calmly left her house and headed to the barn.

Not only do we have more information here — Stevie didn’t answer, they were in her house — but we have emotion, too. Tom does it calmly.

What Tom doesn’t do is have the narrator spell out each step he takes.

Most writers know not to mention every eye blink, every swallow, every burp or sneeze, and every trip to the bathroom. Only point those things out when they are important: the first eye blink after the overnight, after-surgery bandage comes off, when you’re testing it out to see if the eye still blinks properly – and you’re fluttering it for a few seconds, putting off the ultimate test: how much vision you have.

Not that I’ve ever done that. Twice, in fact.

You see that I am so bored by play by play, I can’t even bear to write about it!

And that’s the problem. It’s boring. It’s mundane. It’s not worth talking about. It’s pedantic.

And I can go on and on about why you shouldn’t do it. I don’t think you need me to; the only thing worse than play by play is when the author beats the horse dead and bloody. That’s for another day, though.

For now, go back to your manuscript. Are there simple, everyday actions that won’t hurt the narrative if they are cut out? Do people stand, turn, look, walk, enter, or exit? Do they do those things often?

If the answer’s yes, start using that backspace and/or delete key. Re-craft your sentences as you need to. Take the time to invest in your word choice, and be sure to vary your word choice, your characters’ actions, and your sentence structures. (Oh, is THAT all?)

And, of course, if you get stuck on a better way to word something, drop me a line. I’m offering coaching for just this sort of issue, and I’m offering it pretty cheap, at $25 an hour. One-on-one work, when you need it, and edited manuscripts back to you within a business day or two. How can you beat it?


#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…