The Door that Never Closes

How many times have you seen this in a movie? A character walks into a house, and leaves the door open. The scene is long enough for you to see that the door isn’t going to close by itself. For some reason, that always ticks me off.

In a book or story, we sometimes do the same thing. A character gets out of bed in the morning, has breakfast, and leaves the house to go to work — in his pajamas. Or whatever he was sleeping in. Maybe he sleeps in the nude. We don’t need a detailed description of our character taking off his sleepwear and getting dressed, but not mentioning it all can leave a hole that’s going to sidetrack some readers. “Holy cow! Did he just walk out of the house in his altogether?”

I had this oversight pointed out to me by a beta reader. A character leaves the room to do something that is probably going to take a fair amount of time. The remaining characters are having a real-time discussion which can’t possibly take more than a couple of minutes. And the first character pops back in, not even out of breath from having performed his errand at blazing speed and raced back.

It’s amazingly easy to overlook these little glitches. A character gets up from where he’s been sitting. The only problem is that he was last described as pacing around the room. Another character gets in the shower, apparently without undressing.

We don’t always need to know how a character got from here to there, or how long it took, or what condition he was in. But if you’re trying to convey realistic action, it has to be — realistic. In the scene where the character came back long before he could have finished his task, I could have dealt with it in any one of several ways. I could have made the conversation longer, but only if that made sense for the scene. I could have had him come back and mention some reason why he was back so soon. Or I could have filled in some action during or after the conversation so that his return didn’t happen unrealistically fast.

Once you see these little lapses in continuity, it’s usually easy to fix them. The really hard part of writing is spotting them.

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4 thoughts on “The Door that Never Closes

  1. I totally agree with everything you’ve mentioned. I had a similar experience – I was writing a scene where my protagonist was woken in the middle of the night. I suddenly realised she was dashing around in the middle of street in what she’d been sleeping in which, on a hot summer’s night, was probably not a lot! It definitely pays to address these oversights one way or another, and as well as adding better continuity goes to better describe a scene.

  2. This is an issue I’ve thought about a lot. The door isn’t closed, people NEVER say goodbye on the phone in films, either. The list of these left out steps is quite large.

    I remember catching up writers who had someone leaning on a wall at one moment, and are getting up out of a chair the next. I agree that if you are writing a close view, movement (some of us call it GPS) is essential.

    That said, if a character has a big day at work, I do not think I need to read (or write) about breakfast, showers, or the clothes put on. A simple break between lying in bed worrying about the meeting with the boss and walking into the boss’ office can suffice.

    1. Good distinction. We don’t need to see every step of how the character got from home to work, or even the process of getting ready for work. We can logically skip from home to work as long as we know the person is going to work. Film is a good example. Not saying goodbye on the phone can be perfectly okay or disturbing, depending on the context and whether there’s a cut to the next scene.

      There can be continuity problems between scenes, of course, but I was focusing on the internal problems within a scene (that close view), the kind that can distract the reader.

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