You Have To Choose

Another great post to share from PCW. (Who is currently out of action with a broken elbow, poor thing.  Hope she heals soon.)

Here’s a great quote from it:

“The most effective writing is often counter-intuitive. In this case, it is nearly always more effective to coopt the reader’s imagination – poke it a few times, give it a couple of essential details and a lot of empty space, and let it fill in the mental image that has meaning and emotional impact for that particular reader.”

My take away from this post and others is that you have to choose what you show your reader.  And when you show it.

I read a story the other day by a new writer that had an incredibly vivid and detailed description of the scene.  It was clear the writer knew that most readers wouldn’t be familiar with the setting and felt the need to provide a substantial number of details to make everything clear in the reader’s mind.

Problem was, the story disappeared while the writer was doing that.  And how high a particular wall was turned out to not be relevant to the story at all.  Or at least not in the moment it was described to the reader.

That story could’ve been far more powerful if the author had provided fewer details or woven them into the action.

Now, I tend to underwrite, so I am definitely biased when it comes to this.

I have gray room syndrome or whatever it’s called where you’re never told what a character actually looks like or what 90% of the setting looks like.

That’s because I’m also the type of reader that takes 90% of the details that a writer gives me and throws them out the window.

If they tell me a character has red hair and I think the character sounds more like someone with brown hair, I imagine them as having brown hair no matter how many times the author tells me otherwise.  (Case in point: The Patrick Rothfuss books I just read.)

For me as a reader a lot of descriptive detail is wasted words.  I like to be given an impression and fill in the details myself.  It’s important for me to know how someone compares to those around them (young/old, ugly/attractive, tiny/large) and what makes them unique (half-cyborg).

But beyond that?

Eh.  Tell me what’s happening.  Tell me what people feel or think.

Which is not to say that you shouldn’t have some details.  It’s just to say that I think a lot of beginning writers focus so much on the details that they leave out the action or the character’s experience of their world.

Of course, take my opinions with a grain of salt since I’m still in the baby steps stage of learning myself.  But PCW isn’t, so listen to her.

(And listen to your own instincts as a reader.  What works?  What doesn’t?  When do you find yourself pausing in your reading to glance at the clock?)

About M. H. Lee

M.H. Lee is a speculative fiction writer currently residing in Colorado whose stories are sometimes dark, sometimes funny, sometimes darkly funny, but hopefully always thought-provoking and entertaining.
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