I’m busy in what may be the last throes (of the first draft) of my novel these days, struggling with the tough questions that I’ve managed to put off or dodge around until this point. Some of those questions involve the staging of a central chapter and event in my novel, when a character goes on a journey. I’m discovering that that chapter has some weaker writing; my observations are simply weaker because I’m less familiar with the terrain that my character is covering. As a writer of place, whose observations are steeped in the places I’ve been, it’s proving a very big challenge to write about places I haven’t seen.
I’m not one of those writers who believes you can only write what you know. So I’m left wondering what the best way is to tackle this problem. Part of me thinks that the best way might be to fudge it a little, or to find some way to get the bulk of the action off-stage. And that’s an option that many of us can rely on when we’re struggling with presenting vague or not-that-original information.
Cliches are inevitable, but writing them isn’t.
The fact of life is that cliches happen. They are a part of normal existence; that’s why they’re cliches. We should still be allowed to write about husbands cheating on wives with their secretaries or lonely stay-at-home parents or the like. But if we try to write it on-stage, we’ll end up falling into the same tired tropes of language and imagery to describe these scenes. One solution is to let the cliche do its work of suggestion — and have the scene take place off-stage. Have people returning from the event and moving on from it, or capture the fallout in an interesting way; don’t linger on the precise type of scene that we’ve seen a hundred times before. By having the scene occur off-stage, you can just sketch in the details, and let the mind of your reader fill in the gaps. Let the power of suggestion do your writing for you.
We don’t need to see that inevitable funeral scene, for example; by now everyone knows about the flowers, the crying, the relatives, the casket. Instead, allow the funeral scene to pass off-stage. Capture people who refused to go to the funeral, or move briskly along to a week later, when grief finally sets in. Those repeating scenes are just a waste of space because we’ve seen them too many times before.