The Mundane Doesn't Belong in Your Story

Thursday, October 19, 2017
Our lives are filled with wonderful events, lively conversations, and meaningful relationships. But every day, we also encounter the mundane. In real life, there's routine. There's "hello" and there's  "good-bye". There are conversations with strangers that don't mean anything to our lives. Sometimes, these mundane occurrences show up in our manuscripts.

If you're writing a draft (especially a first draft) of a novel, short story, or memoir, you most likely have some mundane-ness in there. But in fiction (or your memoir), there's no room for mundane events, words, or conversations. If you include these, your pacing will be slow, and your reader may put the book down somewhere in the muddy middle.

Think about a well-crafted novel you've read or even a movie or TV show, where you think the writing is fantastic. Everything that happens in that story has a purpose. The main character does not have a random encounter with a man in the grocery store while picking out fresh produce unless something about that scene is important to the character's overall story and growth.

Where to Look for the Mundane in Your Writing:
  • Dialogue: If you're anything like me, your dialogue is full of lines and words that don't move your story forward. Even if you're a natural at writing dialogue, yours might still be full of greetings, everyday questions like: how are you, "inside jokes" between characters that are clever but don't move the story forward, or a conversation your characters have had more than once.
  • Life routine, especially getting ready and going to bed: When writing, we often take a while to get to the story we need to tell, and that's okay. I believe that it's better to delete 25 percent of what you wrote the day before than to have nothing on the page to delete. But we often start stories and chapters in the wrong place, and this is where everyday, boring life can slip in. We don't need to hear about a character's daily routine of waking up and getting ready for work. Readers understand that your character did not go to bed in chapter 2 and show up at the gala at the beginning of chapter 3, without nothing happening to her all day long. We don't need to read about her getting ready unless something happens that is purposeful, that adds to her overall story and character growth. If, for example, she is OCD, and it literally takes her twelve hours to get ready for the gala and readers need to see this to understand the character--then these events would NOT be mundane. 
  • Transitions: Transitions are places where your characters are going somewhere, like a family gathering, or getting ready to do something, like participate in a protest. Usually there's some needed preparation in the novel, but we also include how the character got to his car or the bus, drove to the event and had a conversation with his family or a stranger, and walked up to the event. Look at these sections carefully. Do you need them? Or will your novel work better if you put one transition statement like: After rushing through traffic and jamming out to the Rolling Stones, Freeda finally made it to the protest, now more than ready to stand for what was right. She grabbed her sign...
When revising your draft, look at every scene you wrote carefully. You need details to set the scene. You need dialogue to reveal your characters. But, you also need to look objectively at what details and dialogue you chose and make sure they're not slowing down your novel. Sometimes, this is hard for us to see in our own writing. So, remember, a good critique group or content editor can help you with this task and get rid of the mundane.

Margo L. Dill is a writer, editor, and teacher, living in St. Louis, MO. You can read more about her on her blog at Consider taking her next WOW! novel writing course, which begins on November 3. More details here. If you would like to find out about Margo's personal writing coach or editing services, please see

Edit photo above on by Matt Hampel. 


Angela Mackintosh said...

I love this advice, Margo! Another technique I use: if I feel I wrote something that's too wordy or unnecessary, but can't figure out what's wrong, I try to cut it down to a quarter of the word count (2,000 to 500 words, etc), which forces me to cut out nonessential parts. It also helps me gain focus and purpose of the scene or theme. And it's usually the mundane stuff you mentioned that gets cut! :)

Sharon K. Mayhew said...

Great advice, Margo! I tend to put some of this in my first draft and then cut it in round two. I've discovered with myself and other writers often times the first chapter is not for the reader it's for the author to get to know the character and should be cut in revisions.

Margo Dill said...

Thanks, Angela. That's a great exercise. I should try it sometime.

Hi Sharon: Yes, first drafts are infamous for the mundane. Hopefully we can weed most of that out in the revision!

Anonymous said...

Good information. I tried to read a novel recently that just came out and had to stop reading. It was filled with mundane, trivial stuff about everyone! Yes, it was a first novel for the writer.

Powered by Blogger.
Back to Top