One of the ways to streamline our action is to consider what we can imply: is the action implied, or can we imply the same meaning with a different action?

By the action being implied I mean something like a character crossing a room. For example, we may have two characters talking in a room and perhaps one is on either side of the room. We’d establish this early on because standing on opposite sides of the room implies things about a relationship and a conversation; it could be an argument or an impersonal conversation, for instance. Now if we know that these two people are far apart do we need to know that one crosses the room? If we had Character A touch Character B’s shoulder than it implies they have moved without saying they have. However, the action may be a very deliberate movement, perhaps they hesitate or edge over slowly. At which point the reader would want to know this because this action implies something, it’s not as simple as walking over and touching someone’s shoulder. There’s a different emotion behind the action, when it’s done slowly.

Another sort of implication would be to imply the same intent through a different action. Props may be useful for this. What do we have in the setting they can fiddle with, sit on, lean against? Perhaps there’s ornaments on a shelf and Character A straightens them while they’re talking, we could use this to imply they are uninterested in a conversation or that they are anxious and it’s a distraction technique. A character sitting and another standing, perhaps even moving around and looking at things in a room, can say different things to. Think of an employer chastising an employee; the boss might be sitting at their desk owning the space while the employee stands looking at their shoes. But if we were to change this so the employer is sitting at their desk trying to ‘own the space’ but the employee is wandering around taking books off the shelves suddenly the power has shifted. The employer wants the power but the employee isn’t giving it to them, without so much as a defiant shrug.

In simple terms it comes back to the central editing question: Do we need to know this? If not we can cut it. If we do we can keep it or even expand on it. In the employer and employee situation from my example we can build it out into an entire scene in motion that also doubles as a description of the setting. It can make a scene kinetic and fill it with subtext in a way that limited and repeated motions such as ‘shrug’ or ‘smile’ might not. Obviously, I’m not saying these can’t be used, sometimes the most direct way is the best way and we should always be looking and experimenting to find the best way for us.


For more writing advice see my Advice Page. For more on description see Finding Your Inner Editor or Finding the Characters.

NOTE: Each article series comes in five parts published between Monday and Friday. Check back tomorrow for the next part.

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