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Wednesday, August 5, 2015

What I Wish All Writers Knew -- How to Kill the Vicar

 


By Robin Weaver


What does the phrase “More tea, Vicar?” actually mean? The terminology comes from a book about English country living. It's literally an invitation to the local churchman to refill his teacup, but there's an undercurrent of false gentility and sweet smiling with malice in the heart. I suppose it’s not unlike the Southern expression: “Bless her heart.”
For writers (and readers), it’s synonymous with… YAWN!

And that’s precisely what I wish all writers would avoid. For example:

"More tea, Vicar?" Lady Boring asked, taking the man’s cup and placing it on the tray beside her.
"Don't mind if I do," said Father Snoresall.
“Would you like one sugar or two?" she asked, pouring the fragrant liquid from the pot that had been in her family for generations. After stirring in the milk, she held the sweetener above his cup. The cup was made of the finest porcelain and painted a delicate blue.
When the Vicar nodded, she dropped in two sugar lumps. She stirred again, and handed
the cup back to the Vicar.
"Thank you, my dear," he said, accepting it with a smile.
Although there is nothing precisely wrong with the excerpt above, and there are even moments of possibly interesting facts, the passage won’t keep a reader turning those pages. Fiction is supposed to be like life, but with the boring parts removed. And, no matter how you pour it, reading about a cup of tea being served is tedious.

So what should you do?
  • Pour the blasted tea over his head. 
  • Writing a non-violent book, fill it with arsenic.
  • No wait…I said non-violent, right? Then make the cup blue and the coffee a vivid orange.

Remember, the purpose of every single word is to:
  1. Move the plot along
  2. Build characterization
  3. Provide insight into the manuscript’s theme.
A good scene does all three. Anything else is just filler. Remember, like serving the Vicar tea, filler is synonymous with boooor-ing.

NOTE:  This post is an excerpt from Stealing the Vicar's Tea, a handbook for eliminating boring passages in your manuscript.  Expected release date is October 2015.

Thanks!
 
 

3 comments:

Linda Lovely said...

Good reminder, Robin. Sometimes we authors do so much research (maybe on the porcelain used in the Vicar's day) that we try to figure out some way to work it into the story--whether it progresses the plot or not. That's why it pays to have great critique partners who can tell you when it's time to smash the china.

Judith Ashley said...

While many may agree with you, Robin, I had a critique partner early on that dinged me whenever I didn't include details such as what type of tree, flowers were growing or blooming. And, not just a maple or oak, was it a silver maple, a bloodgood maple, a vine maple, etc. Birds could not fly across the sky or sing in a tree without being named. Without those details, something was missing from the story from her perspective.

However, I agree with you. We do need to watch the amount of detail we put into the story. If this isn't the classic tale of Arsenic and Old Lace, then the whole tea pouring scene can lack punch.

And Linda is correct. Having critique partners who can tell you when it's time to smash the china is priceless!

Ann Chaney said...

Robin, I knew when I saw 'vicar' in the blog subject, you were the author! I am guilty of dwelling on the 'tea' details. I know better but I slide down that slippery slope. My face is always red when a CP (you) catch me. I should print this blog off and tape it to the side of my computer screen!