Are you a lazy writer? Do you bore your reader? Yeah, I’m callin’ you out.
At my last critique group, somebody read a chapter about a young woman’s first morning on a cruise ship. The girl is “stunned” by the spread at the breakfast banquet. She and her friend have coffee, then breakfast, then walk a couple of laps around the ship. When they come back to their room to find housekeeping has “worked magic,” by cleaning the place, they’re enthralled.
The critique group wasn’t.
Because there was nothing noteworthy about it. If you’ve ever been to Vegas, you’ve seen buffets the size of a football field. If you’ve ever stayed in a hotel, you’ve experienced the joy of coming back to a clean room. Those things aren’t stunning or magical.
The writer described what happened on her last cruise. That’s what she knew, so that’s what she wrote. Sure, it was pleasant and maybe even wonderful. However, the reader, having paid actual cash money for this book, will expect to be entertained. Better to describe something less common, like the sky walk on the Royal Princess.
Listen, you can’t dazzle the reader with the regular things she does already. Unless there’s a metaphor buried somewhere within an everyday setting, cut it. Nobody wants to read, “She got out of her car and approached the steps. Her fingers turned the key, and the lock clicked. The door opened. She stepped inside. It was good to be home after a long day at work.”
Write what isn’t commonplace. Write what hasn’t happened to you. Write what you don’t know.
Write about being sixty years old and mad enough at your ex-husband to try climbing that fricken rock wall of the ship. About trying the surf simulator. About hanging from a zip line. If you’ve never done it, don’t worry. Somebody has, and they put it on YouTube.
Make your character bad, badder than yourself. Don’t make her act like you — polite, rules-following, tax-paying you — make her act in a way that thrills you and the reader. Have her take a risk, or make an unethical decision, something you wouldn’t do in real life. People don’t buy books to get a replay of their own mundane normalcy. Readers want to live in an alternate universe, where the bad guy not only gets punched, but the reader gets to feel her fist break his nose.
As a writer, you get to live vicariously through your characters. Do you want to populate your stories with your plain old everyday self? Instead, make it you, only better/badder: a bit larcenous, less tactful, more sexy. It’s more fun to write, and it’s what readers want. Not a chick who swoons at the sight of the Horizon Buffet.
So go ahead. Have your gal take that sky walk on the Royal Princess. Without panties. I dare you.