The Woman / The Man – But WHICH One?

Although this has been touched upon in past, it’s always worth repeating: recurring words and actions make for flat reading.

Some writers, particularly those new to the fold, appear to love using “the woman” and “the man” in gleeful abundance.  Sometimes, the woman and/or the man can appear six-plus times per page . . . and refer to not one woman or man, but to several.  But if the writer doesn’t “paint pictures” of what Woman #1 or #4 or Man # 3 or #10 looks like, the reader will likely engage in some serious head-scratching.

Randolph saw a woman holding a cane.  Another woman, standing behind her, held a shawl.

“Please show us where the solarium is,” the woman said.

The other woman nodded briskly.

The woman with the shawl appeared to be the other woman’s relative or caregiver.  “Is it that way?” she asked and motioned.

Randolph nodded.

The woman looked at him with her eyes. “You’re not much of a talker, are you?”

WPwomanneatoshopDOTcomNot an action-packed scene, is it?  In fact, it’s terribly blah, never mind difficult to follow.  But it’s an example of what happens when details/descriptions are not provided, if words are repeated, or if there’s a ton of telling but no showing, which translates into “flatter ‘an a flapjack”.  The eyes, subsequently, do this . . .

Don’t be scared to define characters.  Take baby steps, if necessary—adding a word or two instead of a sentence or two.  Determine how bare-bones sentences can be augmented; consider descriptive ones like these:

The stooped woman holding a silver-tipped cane appeared to be in her eighties.

A woman with a dented cane walked forward slowly; her face was lined and weary, suggesting a life of hardship.

A tall and slender woman, standing behind an older one, draped a woolen shawl over her lean arm.

Even if people appear for a brief period, there’s no reason you can’t provide names.  Let’s try something like this with the previous non-action example:

Randolph saw a short, elderly woman holding a cane with a heavily-veined hand.  Another woman, standing behind her, was unraveling a sizeable woolen shawl.

“Please show us where the solarium is,” the woman with the cane requested with a smile.  “Anna and I seem to be lost.”

Anna, tall and lanky, and handsome, nodded briskly.  She was obviously a relative or caregiver.  “Is it that way?” she asked and pointed a slim finger.

Still dazed from the fall, Randolph only managed a nod.

The older lady scanned his face and turned to her companion. “He doesn’t seem to be much of a talker, does he, Rachel?”

Both characters are now established and, should they appear later, can be referred to by name.  Always give thought as to how you might make your characters come alive.  Having flat folks in a story will make for arduous reading.

Breathe life into your story—make your readers want to keep reading.