The Dirty Floor Test (Sydney Salter)

The book had been listed on most of the Best Books of 2023 lists, so why did I find reading it a bit of a slog? The characters were interesting, the setting was unique and compelling, the writing gorgeous and strong, the plot had big turning points. But I got a bit bored. I vacuumed before reading another chapter. 

Why? Not every scene had a mini turning point. Some scenes repeated information about the characters, setting and plot. I found myself thinking, yeah, I know that already. I get it. I know!

Each scene needs to give your reader some new information:

* a detail or scenario that moves the plot forward. Mother's diamond ring is stolen! 

* information that changes the way your characters see themselves or their circumstances. The character finds an appraisal for the ring that shows that the diamond is fake. Should she tell everyone?

* you can add information  that changes the way your readers sees the characters or plot. The character doesn't tell her sister that the diamond is fake. Oh, she's that kind of person! 

* give new information that sets up inevitable consequences to come. The character stuffs the appraisal in her pocket--forgetting that she's wearing her sister's jacket.  

During revision, watch for scenes that don't add any new information about your characters or plot. Don't let zippy dialogue or great descriptions fool you. Ask: does this scene move the story forward by showing a shift in plot or character? Something has to change in every scene. 

If you love the scene, you can always add a bit here and there to weave in new information to make the scene do more work. But often we can delete a sterile scene and think of something more dynamic, something that will propel the reader into the next chapter and the next. 

Reading genre fiction is a good way to learn how to utilize mini turning points. Murder mysteries constantly feed the reader new information about plot and character. Romance novels give the reader anticipated mini turning points, like the inevitable misunderstanding. How can you use mini turning points to propel your readers through your story, make it hard to put your story down? Make your reader skip chores for the afternoon?

You want your story to pass the dirty floor test. 


  1. I agree with Holly. There are some great insights in this post. I'm tucking them in the back of my mind for future reference.

  2. Love the dirty floor test. Am bookmarking this!


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