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How to Revise Mundane Content

Today’s quick tip is a lesson in how to revise a scene that is overwhelmed with mundane content.

Mundane content is a type of dull filler. It can be anything from boring scenes of everyday life to extraneous detail to humdrum descriptions. Mundane content acts a type camouflage, and it masks what’s really important in your book. It can hamper both dialogue and narrative. At best it’s padding for your word count. At worst it’s an awesome sleeping pill.

A few tips before we begin: If the mundane content isn’t necessary, delete it. If it distracts the reader, delete or move it. If it’s telling, use subtlety and imply it. If it’s boring yet vital, liven it up. If it’s necessary but harms the pacing of the scene, summarize it.

Okay, let’s get started. Check out this little gem of a scene.

Sally stands in front of her vanity and brushes her hair. It’s short now, curling under her ears. She colored it a dark auburn. She’s not sure if she likes it. She thinks about going out; hitting the clubs like her friends had been pestering her to do.

She immediately decides against it.

Sally walks into the living room, plops down on the couch, and clicks through the television channels. Nothing worth watching. She decides to read instead.

After a while, there’s a knock at the door. His knock. Sally sets down her book, Things That Make You Sleep Soundly, and rushes to the entryway. She looks through the peephole. She knew it. It’s John. Her heart begins to pound.

Oh God, what’s she going to do? It’s been months since she’s seen him. Would he like her new haircut? Why, oh why wasn’t she wearing something nicer? Perhaps she should ask him to wait in the hall while she changes out of her pajamas and puts on some makeup. No. She’s being ridiculous, isn’t she?

Sally takes a deep breath and opens the door. He’s so beautiful. His dark hair hangs in his luminous blue eyes. He’s tall and lanky, just like she remembers. “Hello, John, do come in.”

“Hello, Sally, it’s so wonderful to see you.” He reaches toward her and then freezes. Slowly, he drops his hand and stuffs it into the pockets of his Levi 501s. Those jeans look so hot on him. Sally’s a sucker for a button fly. He lets out a shuddering breath and stares down at the carpet.

Did he almost embrace me, she wonders. Maybe he feels it, too. Maybe he regrets leaving me.

Overcome with emotion, she throws herself into his arms. “I’m so happy you’re home!”

He spins her around and softly kisses her neck before setting her down. “My mother, sister, and brothers send their love. They say they want to see you again soon. You do know Tommy just graduated from the University of Florida and Cindy finally moved in with Joe, right?”

“Yes, I ran into her at the Big Mart. I’m surprised Cindy finally bit the bullet. Joe’s been pressuring her for years.” Sally sighs and blinks back her tears. “She said you were back in town and you might stop by.”

“I’m sorry, baby. I should’ve never left you,” John says.

In order to rescue this scene, we have to determine three things:

  • what action is vital
  • what the readers need to know
  • what dialogue is absolutely necessary

Okay, it’s time to perform surgery on this scene, leaving only the information we’ve outlined.

There’s a knock at the door. His knock. Sally’s heart begins to pound. She’s been waiting for this moment since John’s sister told her he was back in town.

Oh God, what’s she going to do? It’s been months since she’s seen him.

She takes a deep breath and throws open the door. He’s so beautiful.

Blinking back tears, she launches herself into John’s arms. “I’m so happy you’re home!”

He spins her around and softly kisses her neck. “I’m sorry, baby. I should’ve never left you.”

This is an example of how this scene looks without all the junk content. As you can tell, it’s bare bones. This scene is now ready for the next set of revisions. What is left above is a base that should be tweaked and expanded to create something worth reading.

During the revision process, it behooves you to remove the filler and look at your scenes with new eyes. Places that need to be expanded will jump out at you. And even better, the reduction in your word count will enable you to add content that will make your story pop.

Happy revising! 🙂

Want to know more about mundane content? Check out this article: Writing Pitfall #4: Mundane Detail


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