Richard is the protagonist in a novel, and in one chapter he’s doing the dishes. How interesting is that? As with anything, it depends.
In scenario A, the author’s put the chapter in to make Richard relatable. Everyone’s done the dishes at some point, right? Now you can relive the experience by reading about it. The plates go in the water and get scrubbed, and then, then, they go on the drying rack. After 3,000 words, you’ve seen all manner of kitchenware get this treatment. Or at least you would’ve done if you hadn’t thrown the book down before the end of the first paragraph.
Now let’s look at scenario B, which isn’t really about the dishes at all.
Richard’s life is falling apart. He went after a promotion, but he’s just been fired instead. He scrubs a plate in the sink, but can’t get all the dirt off. It’s just another of his failures. He looks round the kitchen, which he retiled with his girlfriend. Sarah’s half is so neat, whereas Richard’s tiles are wonky, and some have fallen off.
That weekend, he was going to surprise her with a new dishwasher. They used to joke about how having one would mean they’d made it in life. It wasn’t a grand dream, but it was theirs. Instead, they’ll struggle to pay the rent now, even though Sarah recently got a pay rise. Richard knows he should be happy for her, but subconsciously he’s bitter about her success. He also feels guilty, finding only personal shortcomings to measure against everything great about her.
His scrubbing intensifies, but the plate just refuses to get clean. In a rage, he throws it across the room, shattering it like his hopes. He can’t bear the thought of facing Sarah; of telling her he’s lost his job. He tosses on a jacket and heads to the pub before she gets back from her art class.
The next morning, he can’t remember much. He vaguely recalls a message from his now ex-colleague, John, asking for a chance to ‘explain’. John, the guy with a reputation for backstabbing, who just happened to be promoted yesterday. And, as it turns out, the guy who was murdered during the night, in a park at the end of Richard’s street…
Scenario A serves no purpose, except to use up printer ink. However, scenario B shows us more about Richard, and it’s integral to the story. A good writer would focus on his struggles, and how he felt about them. That’s how to keep the reader thinking about the chapter long after the dishwater’s drained away.
Do you have a mundane event in your story? How have you made it essential and fascinating? Get in touch and let me know!