Yesterday's post received some very interesting comments. One, by Davin Malasarn, struck my notice: "I think a lot of times books are like 'real life concentrate.' They describe events that have been filtered of all the boring stuff."
I must say, I like that description. Usually, when I think of things like that, I think of books being distilled into movies. Last time I saw a movie based on a book I'd read, I realized that in the shortening, the film makers had cut most of the moments where the tension levels were at 2 of 10 or so. The movie moved up to an average plot speed of 6 of 10. They'd deleted the low-key moments. However, it now occurs to me, in large part thanks to Davin's comment (thanks, Davin) that books are, similarly, the distilled version of something much longer: life.
Life is long (at least, it feels that way while it's happening. Hindsight, on the other hand, has a shortening effect), and there are lots of moments in it that are not, well, all that interesting. There are many aspects of life that do not make for fascinating reading.
For example, that average person spends 38.5 days brushing their teeth in a lifetime. Now, if someone wants to compose an epic poem about my teeth cleaning process, power to them, but I, personally, don't find the whole deal that intriguing and would be shocked if anyone else considered it less than mundane. (I apologize to any people very interesting in teeth or teeth-brushing. I meant no disrespect. I just don't care for them.)
While one can say a great deal about the tendency of life to be beautiful and brutal, ugly and elegant, and I know I've said my own share on that thread, but there remains a large portion of life that is indifferent and ordinary and mundane. Not everything that occurs in life is fascinating or worth mention in a book.
So what do we do? We cut it out. We trim those portions and skip over them. We distill life to make the book. It makes sense, doesn't it? After all, your reader probably doesn't need to know that your MC uses cinnamon toothpaste and a red toothbrush (wow, am I on an oral kick at the moment. I wonder what that means...) unless there's some deeper meaning to the story. Maybe she can't stand the taste of mint. Maybe red is his lucky color. Maybe your MC likes to think their Deep Issues over whilst brushing their incisors. But if there's no real reason for such a simple moment, if it just exists to kill time or fill space, I would suggest losing it. It's slowing you down.
I'm not ragging on slow moments, because I do believe that everyone needs a little breathing room, and I do know that if every scene is an 8.75 out of 10, your 9 later will feel like a 4. However, there's something to be said for keeping your action at a 5 or 6. A few 2s and 3s are good for balancing things out, but too many of those and even the best action scene and the strongest moment of tension later might not save the book from feeling too slow.
I strongly recommend thinking carefully about those 2s and 3s. Any time where nothing is happening is a time when your reader doesn't feel like they need to stick around. After all, if nothing is going on, what is there for them to keep caring about?
There are lots of moments when life isn't particularly interesting. Books, on the other hand, should always be interesting. While I would never suggest that the mundane has no place in literature, I would say that it should serve its purpose just like everything else, or it should go. Books should be streamlined to the interesting and the important. Real life, concentrated down to the good parts.
How do you feel about concentrating stories and cutting out the 'average' or 'mundane' portions?