I've just written such a paragraph:

He turned around and started walking to the nearby store. He bought a bread and a yoghurt. Then he came back and gave the groceries to the homeless guy.

There are several points to this text:

  • I feel like all this is necessary. I want to get from the point where main character talks to homeless person to the point when he gives them food. Skiping any of the actions may confuse reader as it would sound as hero conjured something out of nowhere.
  • I don't see anything worth mentioning here. The description of the surrounding was already given. There is no side story to this thread. If I add anything here it will feel like a filler to me.
  • I'm not sure about English, but at least in my motherlanguage it sounds terrible due to the high count of verbs. This speeds up the pace unintentionally and may confuse the reader.

Overall I think this paragraph sounds extremally bad, but I can't find a way to alter it. I will appreciate any idea on what can I do with such a snag.

  • 5
    Interestingly, in my native language (German) there is a common sickness amongst many writers of emails and technical documentation where almost no verbs are used, and every sentence is just noun after noun after noun, with some adjectives and maybe, if they don't forget, an auxiliary verb at the end. The result is often so dreary, and it is often quite hard to convey the semantics or meaning of what they want to say. I have, for many years, put much focus on increasing the number of the humble Verb in my surroundings, and, as this comment is showing, I still mostly fail at it!
    – AnoE
    Commented Apr 12, 2021 at 12:09
  • Is there any special reason he has to buy the food? As PrimeMover suggested, do you want to show that he's out-of-touch? A more normal thing would be to hand them a $20 bill. Commented Apr 12, 2021 at 18:06
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    @OwenReynolds Plenty of people would rather buy food or coffee for homeless people, because then they know where the money's going Commented Apr 12, 2021 at 22:10
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    @OwenReynolds I don't see why that's a problem. We can totally accept this as a statement about the character (although I don't think the conclusion is 'out-of-touch'). That doesn't mean that we need to spell it all out in excruciating detail, though. Commented Apr 12, 2021 at 23:54
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    @OwenReynolds Why is giving food to a homeless person out of touch? Also, OP didn't say "he just wants to talk to the guy". Rather, OP wants to get to the point in the story where the conversation takes place. We don't know whether talking was the character's original aim or not.
    – JBentley
    Commented Apr 14, 2021 at 9:33

8 Answers 8


The crux is not adding the action, but the decision, the choice. It’s those that define a character!

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    I think this answer has great promise, but it's too vague as it is currently written. Please expand on your idea, and maybe provide a straw dog example to illustrate your excellent point.
    – EDL
    Commented Apr 16, 2021 at 3:47
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    There are a lot of great answers here, but this one grasps the issue and goes straight to the solution. Switching from a dry description to the description in the context of character's decision is what I needed. Thank you and I would be happy to read more as @EDL suggested.
    – Rico
    Commented Apr 26, 2021 at 19:29

Add Spices and Mix:

I think the problem is you are thinking of your writing as infodump. Not all infodump is always bad, but admittedly no one really likes it. But it doesn't need to be infodump.

What you should do, however, is figure out what the scene adds to the story and integrate the details into a cohesive whole. The content that makes it essential should be visible in the paragraph, and convey the story goals. Your paragraph is black-and-white, so add color. Every paragraph is an opportunity to make your story come alive. I don't know the rest of the story, so let's make some examples up.

The sight of the homeless man filled him with guilt, and he couldn't bring himself to go on. Ted turned around and walked back to the store, buying a cheap loaf of bread and a small yoghurt. He resumed his walk, dropping the groceries off with the disheveled old man as he walked by.

This brings color to an otherwise perfunctory scene, and explains the motives of the character. Ted satisfies his guilt about the homeless person with a minimal gesture. It integrates MORE detail, which ends up making it more intense.

Ted turned excitedly. The supplies at the store were barely adequate, but Ted bought the nicest loaf of bread and decided that adding the yoghurt would make a sufficient offering. He returned, and humbly set the groceries before the man who appeared as a simple beggar.

This gives a whole different perspective on the same exact scene, where the motives and implications of the scene are completely different. Here, Ted recognizes the 'homeless' person as something special, to be given homage.

Ted snapped his fingers and hustled back to the store he had just passed. He grabbed the only bread and yoghurt on the shelf. As he walked on and studied the labels, he frowned. He almost tripped on the homeless man, and decided to give the food to the bum rather than throwing it away.

All of these are the same events you describe, but each sets a completely different scene, tells you different things about your MC, and creates a rich vision of the events as they happen.

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    Oh, do a Hemmingway! Here's mine: "I wanted company. He asked for bread and yogurt. After I brought it we ate in silence, the breeze cool on our forearms". Commented Apr 13, 2021 at 18:48
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    @OwenReynolds Oh, do a Jack Reacher! "The town looked as if the last paint job had been before the great depression. On the way to the modest town square Reacher passed an old, homeless man. The man made eye contact. Not pleading, not complaining, just his way of asking. Reacher had ten dollars on him. In a town this size the grocery store should not be far from the center. He made a decision. He would still have enough money for a coffee in the diner across the street. The store turned out to be two blocks away. The old man appreciated the small bag of food with a short nod." Commented Apr 14, 2021 at 15:23
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    The Jack Reacher novels can serve as examples where the simple description of relative mundane actions sets a mood and describes characters. (Especially Reacher's non-nonsense character.) Commented Apr 14, 2021 at 15:27
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    Poe: "A ghastly apparition of claws and cavernous eyes reared-up before me. My terror abated as I realized it was only a destitute old man, then swelled into a mad resolve to kill the wretch. Craftily I obtained almond bread and cherry yogurt -- flavours you reader may recognize as that of two untraceable toxins. I ask you, would a madman do that?" Commented Apr 15, 2021 at 0:24
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    @fluctuatingpsychosis Exactly. It turns out the OP needs readers to meet the store employee so the main character can go back and ask him about that guy, What else will be important later? What is the point of this scene? We don't know. This whole answer is "it depends on lots of things you know and we don't. All we can do is guess". Commented Apr 20, 2021 at 14:22

Compare your paragraph to

He went and bought a bread and yoghurt for the homeless guy.

This is omitting a little bit of information compared to your paragraph: I don't specify that the grocery store is located back where the protagonist came from, and nearby. This may vary from place to place, but I'd expect a grocery store to be nearby in an urban setting anyway.

If the store's location really matters, you'd want to say much more about it anyway. What kind of store is it? How does the neighbourhood look like? If details of the act matter, maybe it also makes sense to include what kind of bread and yoghurt - store brand or something fancy?

There also is some stuff I don't explicitly say. My sentence doesn’t rule out that the protagonist went to the farmer's market instead of the grocery store. Or that he for some reason is prevented from handing over the groceries. Or that he orders the groceries delivered, rather than doing it personally. But the reader will assume that if anything interesting were going on, then you'd tell them. You don't need to do the boring stuff. If it is also established that there is a grocery store nearby, that'll be where you'd expect the protagonist to buy.

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    Along similar lines, you could say "He gave the man a loaf of bread and some yoghurt from a nearby store".
    – user7868
    Commented Apr 14, 2021 at 2:52

The reader must understand what happened, which is why I mentioned every action the character made

I want to question this, because I think it's a big driver of bad writing. Why are the actions important? Are they interesting actions? No. Do they explore the character? Well, not the way you've written them. DWKraus has explored how you can address those, but you could just delete the entire paragraph.

The only case I can think of where a highly detailed explanation of mundane actions is important is crime fiction, where the reader is primed to interpret details as clues and it will matter later on - "Why, on the morning of June 12th, did you buy a yogurt when in your earlier witness statement you claimed to be lactose-intolerant?"

Edit: if you put the decision do the action, then a paragraph break, and then a description which implies the action happened, the reader can infer that the action happened.

On a whim, he decided to buy some food for this guy.

"Thanks", mumbled the guy between mouthfuls of bread.

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    To be fair, if we're going from "I'll only talk if you give me some bread and a yoghurt!" to "Here you go, old man!" then we need some kind of intermediate step to explain that the character isn't just walking around with those items in their pockets. Commented Apr 12, 2021 at 12:44
  • It is as in Misha's comment. The character meets homeless people and decides to buy them food they want.
    – Rico
    Commented Apr 12, 2021 at 14:03
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    @RicoW But why does he do it? Why does the reader need to know? What do the details do to ground the story or move it forward? If you leave it out or just leave it implied, what's missing from the story? Is there then a way to add it back in without resorting to a dry description? -- pjc50's point is that very often you can (and should) leave things out without compromising the story. Even in Misha's example you don't need a full paragraph of details: "... and a yoghurt!" After a quick stop at a nearby store, he returned. "Here you go, old man!" - Ten words and done.
    – R.M.
    Commented Apr 12, 2021 at 21:33
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    Or to quote Antoine de Saint-Exupéry: "Perfection is achieved not when there is nothing more to add but when there is nothing left to take away."
    – R.M.
    Commented Apr 12, 2021 at 21:35

If it's a drudge to write it, it is a drudge to read it. I (as a reader) don't want to read this:

He turned around and started walking to the nearby store. He bought a bread and a yoghurt. Then he came back and gave the groceries to the homeless guy.

That is a drudge to read. It tells me unneeded details of mundane things - and honestly, it leaves out even more mundane details. If you have to tell me that he walked to the store, then don't you have to tell me that he got there and went through the store to the bakery section to get the bread then to the dairy section for the yoghurt? Don't you have to tell me he stood in line at the checkout and paid for the stuff? You left those details out because they aren't important, and you can leave out the detail about walking to the store because it isn't important, either.

You don't want to just tell people the boring things. You want to tell people the important things and let them assume the dull stuff happened.

Fred was early this morning. He'd slept poorly and gotten out of bed early to escape the nightmares. At this rate, he'd have to wait an hour for the gates at the machine shop to open so he could get to work.

To kill time, he took a detour through a part of town he usually avoided. It was dangerous at night, but safe enough during the day time - the drug dealers and other criminals tended to sleep in.

He'd spent enough time here to know how dangerous it could be - he'd escaped the danger and the poverty, but he hadn't forgotten the hopelessness or the hunger. He'd never get rich working at the machine shop, but he didn't have to wonder where his next meal was coming from.

His feet led him through the streets to a place he knew all too well. He'd huddled there in the dark on many a hungry night. As he passed by, he glanced down the alley with the abandoned crates and dumpsters where he'd often hidden and caught sight of a rumpled looking fellow trying to keep warm in a nest of old newspapers.

Fred thought "Poor bastard. Nobody ever helps anybody around here."

Well, why not?

Fred patted his back pocket - his wallet was there, with the remains of the twenty bucks he'd used to buy groceries the day before. A look at the clock on the jewelry store down the street showed he still had more than enough time to get to work.

A hot cup of coffee and a sandwich, and maybe one more homeless, hopeless loser would find the strength to get up and leave this nasty place in search of a better life.

"Yo, dude. How'd you like a bite to eat?"

The rumpled figure under the newspapers reached greedily for the sandwich, trying to eat and say "Thanks" at the same time.

Fred hunkered down with the coffee cup, and waited.

From there, Fred and your homeless person can get into a conversation.

Fred didn't explicitly go to the grocery store, but it is implied that he did.

I don't care that Fred went to the grocery store. I want to know why he was someplace with homeless people and why he stopped to help one.

I don't know what lead your character there. Tell me about that, rather than the boring "walked to the grocery store, bought stuff, gave it to somebody."

As a reader, I'm fully capable of figuring out that your character isn't walking around with a loaf of bread and a cup of yogurt in hand and had to buy it somewhere - if you give me hints that it is possible.

As a reader, I want you to write the things I don't know about your characters, their world, and their story.

  • We'd also have to assume the homeless guy doesn't have a gluten allergy or lactose intolerance before choosing to give him bread and yoghurt. Did he ask the guy what he wanted to eat first? Does it matter? Not really, just another detail you can leave out... Commented Apr 14, 2021 at 16:19

He turned around and started walking to the nearby store. He bought a bread and a yoghurt. Then he came back and gave the groceries to the homeless guy.

That's a great act of kindness, but why did he do it? Adding the "why" can make a large difference between "drudge" and "character building".

Clark noticed Jessie up ahead, the homeless guy he met last week, and decided to grab him some food again. So, he walked back to the store to buy a loaf of bread* and a yoghurt.

It's about the same length, but it gives it more flavor, like DWKraus mentioned. In this case, it's adding some history to the interaction. This goes from a one-off situation to something this Clark does at least semi-regularly, or is starting to do. This gives you the "interaction" you are seeking.

It also cuts out some of the specifics, but still lets the reader understand what's implied. Clark isn't a robot, so he doesn't need to be told exactly what to do, and neither does the reader need to learn about it.

You don't even have to get into the history of why, just saying a bit about the why is enough. Don't worry about Checkov's gun, there's plenty of reason to establish that Clark is a decent guy in and of itself that you don't need to mention Jessie again. I would warn against doing this too much, though. It can leave the readers wondering where all those random things mentioned were supposed to go, leaving them unsatisfied with the story arc that seemed to have a lot of unfulfilled branches.

* As a side note, in American English, we don't usually say "a bread", but "a loaf of bread" or "a couple slices of bread", which is why I changed that part.


Skip[p]ing any of the actions may confuse reader as it would sound as hero conjured something out of nowhere.

The reader can probably guess where the groceries came from, but if you want to make it more explicit, discussing things that happened in the past for which the focus is how they relate to the current situation is what perfect tenses are for:

He gave some groceries that he had bought earlier to the homeless guy.

You don't need to describe him buying the groceries; you can use past perfect to present the purchase as something that has already taken place.


Without knowing more about the context and the impact you are trying to achieve, it is impossible to suggest how the paragraphed should be reworded. However, as a standalone piece of English, it is neither polished nor efficient.

He turned around and started walking to the nearby store. He bought a bread and a yoghurt. Then he came back and gave the groceries to the homeless guy.

Around is unnecessary- you could just say he turned (if you think it important to say he turned, otherwise omit both words).

Started is a word that's often used unnecessarily, as is the case here. You could just say he walked.

Is it the only nearby store? If not, say a nearby store.

You don't really need to say the store is nearby- if he walked here, the reader will assume it's in walking distance.

In British English 'a bread' is not standard usage. We would just say he bought bread, or a loaf etc. A yoghurt could just be yoghurt.

Then is another word that is often used when not needed. You don't need then to indicate that the words following it describe the next event in a sequence if the reader can plainly infer it.

The use of the word 'came' is interesting, as it places the narrative voice as having remained with the homeless guy.

Strictly you don't need to say he returned, as that is implied by his giving the groceries to the homeless guy.

You could convey the same meaning with half the words...

He walked to a store and brought back bread and yoghurt for the homeless guy.

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