Have you ever read one of those long paragraphs in which the writer tells you absolutely everything about a character’s movements or actions in excruciating detail? Boring, isn’t it? Exhaustive descriptions like these leave nothing to the reader’s imagination and slow down the action as well. In an online tip column, Melissa Jones, the co-founder of a very helpful writer’s site called WeBook.com talks about the dangers of using “stage directions” in a narrative.
Most seasoned playwrights use stage directions only sparingly because they want to give actors and directors plenty of freedom to play and interpret. But many of us aren’t so economical in the narratives we write. Sometimes we want to make sure that our readers visualize exactly what we see as we’re writing, so we over describe what’s happening. The result can be tedious instead of terse.
“Any time you narrate a physical action that gets a person from point A to point B, you’re using Stage Directions,” notes Melissa. “Of course, sometimes it’s necessary to include some stage directions. But many writers – especially novices – use far too many stage directions in their writing.”
Much like actors, readers enjoy having the freedom to visualize a character’s actions on their own, without tons of tedious detail from a writer. It lets them use their imaginations and gets them actively involved in your story. “In fact, the process of doing this is one of the major pleasures of reading,” notes Melissa. “Don’t rob your reader of that pleasure by micromanaging his or her imagination… As a general rule, you should include only those physical actions which are absolutely necessary for a reader’s comprehension of a scene; and those which reveal something interesting about your character or his/her situation.” Sounds like great advice. Let’s see if it works!