When Ordinary Writing Accomplishes Something Extraordinary
When writing, it’s easy to get into the fray of conflict and goals. To focus on getting key character traits into the work through actions and deeds. And to get that forward momentum going and get to the point we wanted to write the story in the first place.
But often in stories—numerous novels I’ve read lately—I’m noticing a trend. We’re leaving out the ordinary. I’m not talking about inconsequential, mundane dialogue. That should be omitted, because while our characters emulate real life “talk,” as writers we realize that much of that chatter is boring and insignificant. It hasn’t earned story space. Snippets of chatter can be useful because while it seems insignificant, it’s doing other work. It’s characterizing, letting personality shine through, or it’s a plant. But in those cases, it truly isn’t chatter. It’s earned space because it’s performing that extra duty. Bluntly put, too much chatter, and we lose the reader. But zero chatter reads stiff and informational, and it doesn’t appear natural.
So what do I mean: Remember the Ordinary? And where and how do you include it?
An example: A female protagonist uses a tube of mascara and gets a bacterial eye infection. This complicates her tackling her obstacles in the novel because her eyes are tearing and that infection blurs her vision.
You can see how this could be used in the novel to advantage. How it could complicate her struggles to achieve her goals and escalate her obstacles. Blurred vision could make her overcoming those challenges and obstacles difficult.
Let’s say that her vision is blurred and she’s left the doctor’s office and is on the way to the pharmacy to get a prescription for the blurred vision. She’s walking because driving it out—she can’t see well. And let’s say that she’s on the way into the pharmacy at the same time someone’s on the way out. That person, from the shape and size, probably a guy, pulls off a mask and runs.
She saw his face—or he thinks she does. He doesn’t know that he was nothing more than a blur to her. Now she’s asked to identify that person—a person who has just robbed the pharmacy.
That’s an ordinary situation that’s become extraordinary. If this man, to avoid arrest, watches and follows her, bent on preventing her to identify him to authorities, that escalates the challenges for her. Remember, she’s just gotten the medicine and she still can’t see well. Exactly how does one prevent oneself from becoming a victim?
She might sense she’s being followed, but she can’t identify her stalker. Some will assume she’s jumping at shadows as a result of the pharmacy scare. Some will assume she’s feeling vulnerable because she can’t see clearly and believe that what’s happening is normal to someone suffering a temporary incapacity.
In that example, we see an ordinary situation—mascara causing an infection—become extraordinary and complicate the woman’s life.
To make the ordinary extraordinary, follow the Rule of Three. If you aren’t familiar with it, basically include an aspect of something three times. The first time, foreshadow it. In the second mention, reinforce it. In the third mention, use the incident and activate the complications.
Example of Rule of Three.
- First mention. Show the woman using the mascara while actually focusing on something else. She accidently drops or knocks the tube into the sink. This is a subtle plant.
- Second mention. Her with the tube of mascara. Her eyes are itching and watering and she’s wondering what’s going on–and if it has anything to do with the mascara. It’s a new brand she’s not tried before and she had knocked it into the sink. It wasn’t quite closed, she recalls. Had it picked up bacteria? She doesn’t want to take a chance—you only have two eyes—so she calls the doctor for an appointment, telling the nurse her vision is a little blurry.
- Third mention. Unable to see anything clearly, she arrives at the pharmacy where she encounters the robber. The blurred vision, tearing, itching, redness—shows up in full force at this, the worst possible moment for her. At the very moment she most needs clear vision, she doesn’t have it, and not having clear vision puts her in a bad position or in jeopardy.
That’s the what, where and how. Now, the why…
Readers bond with the characters through emotions. That includes emotional reactions to things the reader and character have in common.
Sticking with our example: It’s widely known and accepted that mascara must be replaced every few months—even if it’s used once and not used again in the interim—because with that first use, bacteria is introduced to the tube. That bacteria multiplies. Women are acutely aware of this. It’s something that is so common and well known among women that most replace mascara even more often than the every three months frequently recommended.
That’s a bond. That’s something ordinary that women have in common—their mascara and replacing it. It’s relatable. Women get it and connect. Women who have gotten a bacterial eye infection will really connect. Men who have been with women who have suffered bacterial eye infections or who have for some other reason had bacterial eye infections will connect.
Anchoring readers into scenes with details allow the reader to stop reading words on a page and to live the story. Anchoring readers to characters with ordinary details encourages the reader to relate and become the character.
When you remember the ordinary and use it to aid the reader in that transformation—from reader to active participant—your ordinary writing accomplishes something extraordinary.
© 2015, Vicki Hinze. Hinze is the award-winning, USA Today bestselling author of nearly thirty novels in a variety of genres including, suspense, mystery, thriller, and romantic or faith-affirming thrillers. Her latest release is The Marked Bride, Shadow Watchers, Book 1. She holds a MFA in Creative Writing and a Ph.D. in Philosophy, Theocentric Business and Ethics. Hinze’s online community: Facebook. Books. Twitter. Contact. www.vickihinze.com.