Revising Mundane Content
We’re all guilty of it at one time or another. Don’t lie. Even best-selling authors fall victim to mundane content. It sneaks into our writing disguised as description and detail we think will add to our story when, in fact, it bogs it down. “But my descriptions are necessary to make my scenes fuller,” you say. Not all description is necessary and not all detail makes a scene fuller.
So why is it so hard to find mundane content in our own writing and strike it down where it stands? Because one man’s detail is another man’s mundane content. That’s the hard part about mundane content. It wears many disguises.
But there is hope, so get your red pen ready and warm up that delete button. This might sting a little.
The key to revising mundane content is to recognize what’s important to your story and what isn’t. It comes does to three things:
What action is needed to move the scene and plot along? What information are you trying to give your reader? And what dialogue is needed and what should be left unsaid? One of my favorite pieces of advice for writing a scene is to “come into the scene late and leave early.” Everything you write should come under scrutiny to decide if it is mundane content.
Now it’s time use that red pen. Read the following scene from a romance. Decide what is necessary and what is mundane.
Robert walked into the bedroom. The warm mahogany of the massive four-poster dominating the spaced glowed under the light from the six-blade ceiling fan slowing spinning in the center of a classic tray ceiling. A cream-colored satin duvet punctuated with deep crimson flowers was partly covered with a pile of matching throw pillows. A lavender skirt lay crumpled at the base of one of two matching nightstands with large ornate lamps on top that loomed like sentinels. The carpet was so plush, Robert wanted to kick off his shoes and dig his toes into the thick pile.
As he walked further into the room, he turned his head and spied his reflection in the mirrored doors of the folding closet doors. He straightened his broad shoulders and hoisted his bag a little higher. He heard someone approach from behind and assumed it was one of the uniforms.
“Where’s the body?” he asked over his shoulder.
“In the master bath through there.”
Robert felt his chest tighten when he heard that familiar husky voice, and he spun around.
Detective Greta Swartz wore black snug fitting jeans that fit her long legs and toned derrière like a glove, and the Persian green of her silk blouse made her hazel eyes pop. He hadn’t seen her since their academy days fifteen years ago when they’d tried to make their poorly timed relationship work. Long hours and two competitive natures weren’t exactly the makings of a successful union—not to mention Denise Paulson, whose constant need for his attention added more strain than the budding romance could bear.
Greta’s tone and the set of her mouth told him the surprise wasn’t exactly welcome. Still, he loved the way she said his nickname. No one ever called him that anymore and it wasn’t until then that he’d realized how much he’d missed it.
“Hey, Greta. How are you?”
She paused for a moment. “Good. And you?”
“I can’t complain. It’s been a long time,” he replied, drinking her in.
“Yes, it has. When did you make the switch to CSI?”
“A few years ago. I finally let go of Dad’s dream for a police captain in the family and went after my first love.” His dad had made it as far as sergeant before her retired from the force and wanted Robert to do better. But Robert loved the science behind the investigation. When he made the switch, his dad didn’t speak to him for three months.
“Good for you. Have you been briefed on situation?”
“Yes,” he said with a sigh. A reunion would have to wait. “Where’s the person who called it in?”
“The wife”—Greta grimaced—“is in the kitchen talking to Detective Jenkins.”
Robert raised his eyebrow at her. He knew how much she hated it when he did that.
“It’s Denise Paulson.” Greta spun on her heel and marched out of the bedroom.
Now comes the fun part. Deciding what really needs to stay and what to cut.
What’s this scene is about? It’s about Bobby and Greta meeting again. Of course, te secondary reason for the scene is also the murder investigation and the fact that Denise is the wife of the victim. But at its core, this scene about Bobby and Greta. With that in mind and the goal to only include the detail that moves the plot forward, let’s look at this scene again now that it’s been revised for mundane content.
Robert walked into the bedroom and assessed the situation. The well-appointed bedroom screamed wealth and privilege. Footsteps approached from behind, and he assumed it was one of the uniforms.
“Where’s the body?” he asked over his shoulder and hoisted his bag a little higher.
“In the master bath through there,” a woman with a familiar husky voice said.
He spun around.
Pointing to the arched doorway on the far wall was Detective Greta Swartz. She looked even better than he remembered. Long hours at the academy, two competitive natures, and Denise Paulson had been more than their budding romance could bear.
“Bobby?” Her green eyes widened with surprise.
No one ever called him Bobby anymore. After fifteen years, he still loved it when she called him that. “Hey, Greta. It’s been a long time.”
The set of her mouth suggested the surprise wasn’t exactly welcome. “Yes, it has.” She looked him over and lifted her chin. “When did you make the switch to CSI?”
“A few years ago. I decided to go after my first love.”
Her eyes flashed briefly with emotion, but then it was gone. “Good for you.” She tilted her head toward the bathroom.
A reunion would have to wait. “Where’s the wife?” he asked, feeling the full weight of his bag.
“The wife is in the kitchen.” Then she grimaced. “It’s Denise Paulson.”
This edited scene is streamlined with the mundane content removed.
- The reunion between Bobby and Greta isn’t bogged down with descriptions of a room that has nothing to do with the plot.
- We don’t need to know how much Robert Senior wanted Bobby to become a police captain at this time. If it is important, it’s best to find a different place to mention that.
- The mundane greetings have been taken out to improve the pacing of the scene.
I have left enough information in to create the scene, have a shocked reunion, move the plot forward, and throw the first of many barriers in front of the would-be couple. Is there room for improvement? Yes. Now the scene can be expanded to show more now that the mundane content has been removed.
Apply this practice to your manuscript and really look at your scenes. A poetic description of a beautiful waterfall is still mundane if it has nothing to do with the story or fails to move the plot along. Once the mundane has been cleared, you will be able to see your story, find the areas that need to be expanded and improve your writing.
What techniques have you used when revising mundane content in your writing? Please share in the comments below.
Now… go write something!